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Auburn City Council candidates respond to public's questions at IGNITE forum

AUBURN — The first political forum of the election season brought the four candidates who are vying for the two open Auburn City Council spots together to answer questions submitted by the public. 

The forum was hosted by IGNITE, Cayuga County's young professionals group. IGNITE's Vice Chairperson Kierstyn Zaykoski moderated the event.  

Candidates Terry Cuddy, Debby McCormick, John Camardo and Adam Miller were each asked seven questions related to challenges Auburn faces, from the safety of public drinking water to how to properly fund the school district. 

The four candidates offered different solutions when asked what council can do to combat the heroin and opioid epidemic plaguing the city. 

Camardo, who previously served as a city councilor from 2012 to 2015, said the best way to prevent drug use is to provide opportunities for people.

"When you bring jobs in, it's been proven that people are not so easily swayed to be involved with heroin," Camardo said. 

Cuddy and McCormick, both current city councilors, said the city must work with the Auburn Police Department to provide programs to help fight the crisis. 

"The previous council was not alarmed when the chief at the time ended the city's participation in the Finger Lakes Drug Task Force and disbanded the Emergency Response Team and he was also attempting to dismantle our school resource officer program," McCormick said. "These are critical to combating drug abuse in the community." 

Cuddy mentioned how city council has reinstated the police department's Emergency Response Team and helped establish a prescription drug drop box at the police station. 

"As a school teacher, this hits home," said Cuddy, a teacher at Cayuga Onondaga BOCES.

Miller, who has never held political office, suggested getting religious and community leaders involved to help those struggling with addiction. 

When discussing downtown parking, Miller said the issue is a "perfect example of the city council not listening to the people."

Camardo agreed, saying the incoming visitors center is going to put "the YMCA in peril." 

Cuddy and McCormick disagreed. 

Cuddy said the council has been "totally engaged with all the stakeholders, especially the YMCA" and mentioned that council approved a host of reforms to the underutilized Lincoln Street parking garage, including free two-hour parking and 24/7 video surveillance by the APD.  

"The lack of parking, I think for Auburn, is a great problem to have," McCormick said. "That means we have people downtown, visitors from all over the world, and more to come. I think we have plenty of parking downtown, we just have to use it." 

All the candidates support bringing more business and industry into the city, but differed on the best way to do so. 

"We need to redirect our funds to make sure that we're attracting business," Camardo said. "I'm talking about getting out of Cayuga County, get people out there on the road to make contacts, see what's out there."

Camardo said the city officials should be "doing everything in our power" to get a big business like Amazon to invest in the area.  

According to Cuddy, there are already "bright spots" of industry and business in the city, citing Tessy Plastic's expansion into the Auburn Industrial Park, NUCOR Steel's $30 million investment into the Auburn plant and the growing craft beer industry. 

Cuddy said he has been working with several businesses who are interested in expanding and moving. 

Miller had a different take. He said encouraging renewable energy in the city would attract more businesses and add jobs, while McCormick credited the hard work of the Auburn Downtown Business Improvement District for the recent growth in downtown.

When it came time for each candidate to list their top priorities, Camardo and Miller touted cutting taxes and spending, while Cuddy and McCormick advocated for improved neighborhoods. All candidates mentioned Owasco Lake as a top priority, as well as listening to the public. 

The next Auburn City Council candidate forum will take place from 7:30 to 9 a.m., Oct. 18 during the monthly Wednesday Morning Roundtable meeting. It will be held at the Hilton Garden Inn, 74 State St.

Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen 

Auburn City Council candidates, from left, Terry Cuddy, Debby McCormick, John Camardo and Adam Miller are shown during the IGNITE the Vote forum at the Hilton Garden Inn on Tuesday.

Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen 

The public watches during the IGNITE the Vote forum.

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Auburn candidates for Cayuga County Legislature talk Owasco Lake, heroin, and more

AUBURN — Candidates running for Cayuga County Legislature District 11 and 13 seats in the city of Auburn had a lot of ground to cover in a panel discussion Tuesday night. 

Hoping to win the District 11 seat were Democratic and Working Families candidate Elane Daly and Republican and Conservative candidate Michael Lesch. Facing off for the District 13 seat was incumbent legislator and Republican, Conservative and Independence candidate Tim Lattimore and Democratic and Auburn First party candidate Bob Nodzo. All answered questions submitted by the public at the Hilton Garden Inn in Auburn. The panel was hosted by IGNITE, a group of Cayuga County young professionals.

The candidates differed in their backgrounds more than they did in their answers on the issues.

All felt that clean drinking water is a priority for Cayuga County, and work needs to continue to clean up Owasco Lake after toxins from harmful algal blooms threatened the drinking water last summer. Lesch highlighted that while there are many groups doing important work for the lake, he felt that there needs to be one agency to provide the same message.

"We're hearing noise from so many different agencies," he said.

Nodzo reminisced of the times he could pour water from the tap without thinking about it. Daly said she would continue to support the county's current efforts on a watershed management plan and updating the watershed's rules and regulations. Lattimore suggested the county consider installing retention ponds near some of the lake's major tributaries to clean the water.

Switching gears, candidates discussed the potential for a new Cayuga County Office Building. All felt that the public needs to be more involved in the discussion. Lattimore suggested that the county move departments from the current building at 160 Genesee St. to space in the Fingerlakes Mall. Renovations would be done on the current office building in the meantime, and the mall would have more tenants at least for a couple of years, he said.

All, too, felt that the county administrator position, which has seen a lot of turnover in the past, should be given the authority required to succeed. 

When asked about what should be done about the heroin epidemic, the answers differed somewhat. Nodzo and Lattimore said educating children at a young age about the problems with drugs is a priority. Lesch said more funding should be given to the Finger Lakes Drug Task Force and law enforcement. He also advocated for more regulations around prescription drugs. Daly, however, felt that there are lots of efforts already underway considering programs provided by the county, by the local community and the potential for Auburn Community Hospital to bring a 10-bed treatment facility to the county. Those she would continue to support, she said.

In the end, candidates felt their backgrounds provided new perspective to the Legislature, should they be elected.

For Lesch, his job as a certified public accountant, he said, would make him a great fit. 

"I think a major difference between my fellow legislative candidates is me coming from the private sector," Lesch said. "What I do is I come here with no preconceived notions. I come here with no biases."

That's the opposite, he said, of what his opponent Daly may have. Daly has more than 35 years working for Cayuga County, ending as the director of the county's health and human services department.

"I think that is worth something," she said.

She also said the fact that she's a woman separates her from the rest as applause broke out from the audience. Currently, Legislator Aileen McNabb-Coleman representing District 6 is the only female legislator.

Nodzo, who is a retired teacher from Casey Park Elementary and Herman Avenue Elementary Schools, said he's met many people from all over Auburn. His experience, too, as a musician and entertainer has brought people to the dance floor. His experience as a hair stylist, too, has taught him to listen, communicate and execute.

"I will bring those qualities to my job," he said.

The only incumbent, Lattimore said he hopes to be elected to his third and final term. Considering his former stint as Auburn mayor, along with time on the city's planning board, he said he had a couple of more things he'd like to be able to do at the county level before he leaves. 

"I do know a lot of people," he said. "I can pick the phone up and ask for our state and federal representatives to show up and be present on different issues. I just enjoy what I do."

Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen 

Cayuga County Legislature candidates, from left, Bob Nodzo, Elane Daly, Tim Lattimore and Mike Lesch participate in the IGNITE the Vote forum on Tuesday.

Report: Cayuga County has second-highest percentage of structurally deficient bridges

More than one-quarter of Cayuga County's local bridges are structurally deficient, according to a new report released Tuesday by state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.

The report, which estimates that bridges owned by local governments in New York need repairs totaling $27.4 billion, found Cayuga County has the second-highest percentage of structurally deficient spans in the state. 

Twenty-four of the county's 87 bridges, or 27.6 percent, have been rated structurally deficient. When a bridge is deemed structurally deficient, the comptroller's office said it's safe to drive on, but it could have load-bearing elements in poor condition or it's susceptible to repeated flooding. 

Only neighboring Seneca County has a higher percentage of structurally deficient bridges. Nine of Seneca's 26 bridges — 34.6 percent — are structurally deficient, according to the report. 

Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen 

The state Department of Transportation has called for immediate repairs to the North Division Street bridge in Auburn.

Statewide, 1,130 of 8,834 locally-owned bridges, or 12.8 percent, are structurally deficient. That's a drop from 2002 when 16.7 percent of the bridges owned by local governments were rated structurally deficient. 

A challenge for local governments is funding to repair bridges. Cities, counties, towns and villages often lack the resources to make significant repairs to bridges. 

"Local communities are facing a big price tag for maintaining and repairing bridges," DiNapoli said in a statement. "These structures are aging and the cost for repairs will likely only increase over time. Many local governments understand the importance of long-term planning for their infrastructure needs but they will need help."

The state has provided aid to municipalities for bridge repairs. DiNapoli noted that as of January, the state Department of Transportation has awarded more than $200 million for 132 local bridge and culvert projects. 

The federal government has also provided a large amount of assistance. The Federal Highway Administration has grant programs available to support as much as 80 percent of a project's cost. 

The report comes as President Donald Trump and congressional leaders discuss a hefty infrastructure package. Trump proposed a $1 trillion plan to boost the nation's infrastructure. This would include funding for bridge and road projects. 

"Difficult decisions lie ahead, but these infrastructure needs must be addressed," DiNapoli said. 

Cayuga County bridge data

Updated Owasco Lake harmful algal bloom reports show anatoxin

The Owasco Lake Watershed Inspection Program has added a new column to its harmful algal bloom page — anatoxin levels. The relatively new toxin for Owasco Lake's algae blooms is still showing up at fluctuating concentrations. 

The usual toxic culprit seen in Owasco Lake harmful algae is called microcystin. A kind of liver toxin, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a 10-day health advisory guideline for drinking water and the state Department of Environmental Conservation, too, utilizes a threshold to determine a harmful algae bloom. 

But there really are no guidelines for anatoxin, a kind of neurotoxin, not even advisory levels from the EPA. Still, Greg Boyer, director of the New York's Great Lakes Research Consortium and a professor at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, was concerned when levels from a sample taken Sept. 12 showed anatoxin at 18.55 micrograms per liter compared to the previous detections of 0.13 and 0.81. 

"Those levels were an order of magnitude higher than we were used to seeing, so it was this big, glaring red flag," he said.

The levels persuaded Boyer to diverge from his traditional reporting process of sending lab results to the DEC to be reported to other agencies. Instead he went straight to the Cayuga County Health Department and the DEC. The health department issued a release shortly after.

While the anatoxin levels remained fairly low to non-detectable over the course of other samples, results from a sample taken Sept. 25 north of Martin Point and close to the vicinity of the town of Owasco and city of Auburn's water intake pipes show levels of 8.92 micrograms per liter. The same sample showed microcystin levels nearly 31 times the DEC's threshold at 618 micrograms per liter. The DEC said the samples were taken on the shoreline and not at the depths of the intake pipes.

In the meantime, the DEC is holding fast to its messaging of, "Know it, see it, report it." Rebecca Gorney, research scientist with the DEC, said that messaging hasn't changed in light of the sampling results. State and local health officials continue to emphasize that people and pets should stay out of the water if they see a bloom.

One piece of information that may ease some minds is that anatoxins are short-lived. They're often reduced by half within hours, and thus the state Department of Health has said they are not a concern for the drinking water. 

Latest microcystin results for Auburn and Owasco's treatment plants show the carbon treatment systems are keeping the drinking water clear. The Cayuga County Health Department did report 0.18 micrograms per liter of microcystin in the Auburn lake water entering the plant on a sample collected Oct. 6, but none were detected in the finished water.