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Projects identified for Auburn's 2018-2019 block grant program

AUBURN — The city of Auburn identified 12 areas in the community that will benefit from its 2018-2019 Community Development Block Grant funding from the federal government. 

The funding, which the city has received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development since 1974, is used to fund services and projects that benefit low-to-moderate-income city residents, Senior Planner Renee Jensen said Thursday during a presentation of the CDBG Annual Action Plan to the Auburn City Council.

There are two categories of projects eligible for funding: Direct-benefit activities and area-wide activities.

Direct-benefit activities include housing assistance, domestic violence programs and programs for youth, senior citizens and the disabled. Anyone who meets a certain income criteria can benefit from these programs. Repairing sidewalks, playground renovations and neighborhood improvements qualify as area-wide activities. Only areas where more than 51 percent of residents are low-to-moderate income, according to U.S. Census data, can benefit from CDBG funding. 

The largest portion of the money goes to housing-related projects, such as home repair assistance, grants for first-time home buyers and homelessness prevention. According to the projects outlined in the action plan, $952,129 will be put to use for housing. 

Up to 15 percent of the city's entitlement can be spent to benefit Auburn human service organizations. A total of $120,000 will be divided among 15 agencies to fund programs for low-to-moderate-income persons. For example, the Booker T. Washington Community Center will receive $7,500 to fund its summer youth program, while the Calvary Food Pantry will be given $10,000 to purchase food.

According to the action plan, $100,000 is allocated for park and playground improvements. Saint Francis park and playground, Casey Park playground, Sherwood Street playground and the Owasco River Trail will benefit from the money. Nearly $170,000 will be used for the annual sidewalk replacement program. This year, the city intends to replace sidewalks on State Street, on Perrine Street from State Street to the railroad tracks and on Cottage and Seymour streets, both from State Street to North Street. 

Approximately $76,000 is budgeted for business loans, while $143,500 will cover administrative costs associated with "the delivery of CDBG programs and funds," according to the action plan.

A public hearing was held Thursday night so residents could give their input about the city's action plan. No citizen spoke during the hearing. However, the city held a public meeting in October and a hearing in November. Jensen said the input from those meetings, along with an online survey, "really helps shape and influence our annual action plan and the projects prioritized within."

According to the online survey, cleanup of abandoned properties, substance abuse services and park and playground improvements were the top three areas where citizens would like to see the CDBG money spent. 

The city council will vote to approve the action plan during next week's meeting. Then, the city must wait for HUD to approve the plan before any work can begin on the projects. Director of Planning and Development Jennifer Haines said she hopes the plan will be approved by July 1. 

Could Cayuga County join others in opioid lawsuit?

AUBURN — Since at least September the Cayuga County Legislature has considered joining a multi-county lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies selling opioids. This month, it may actually do so.

The lawsuit, which was originally filed by Nassau County, seeks to recoup costs to municipalities associated with drug addiction and overdoses. Onondaga County has already joined, and Cayuga County Administrator J. Justin Woods said Westchester County has also recently signed on. 

A draft resolution will come before next week's Government Operations Committee that would enter the county into a legal agreement with a law firm and execute all necessary paperwork "to implement and join litigation against Opiate manufactures." 

The potential litigation was briefly discussed at the Legislature's Thursday night Health and Human Services Committee meeting. Legislator Tim Lattimore brought the matter to the table.

"I'm just saying, timing is everything, and I don't want the clock to run out on us, and we won't be part of the suit," Lattimore said. 

Cayuga County Attorney Fred Westphal said he did not think time was an issue. Westphal said the main thing he is waiting on for the draft resolution is which law firm to enter into an agreement with. 

The Government Operations Committee listened to the presentations of three law firms involved in the litigation in October. More than half of the committee members wanted to move forward with a recommendation, but that was later pushed aside. Legislators continued to discuss the lawsuit over the coming weeks, but were concerned about the amount of staff time it would take to collect data on how opioids have affected the community. 

Last year's elections, Woods pointed out, swapped out legislators so now the body can move forward with everyone on the same page. Cayuga County Director of Community Services Ray Bizzari said he expected other counties would be signing onto the lawsuit. 

Government Operations is scheduled to meet 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 13 in Caucus Room 1 of the Cayuga County Office Building, 160 Genesee St., Auburn. 

In other news: 

• The Department of Social Services and the Health Department will likely receive new 2018 Nissan Rogues after the Health and Human Services Committee passed two resolutions. Social Services is slated to get two cars, and the health department one. The cars cost about $20,000 each. 

Woods said he no longer wants the county to purchase cars that are two-wheel drive considering the weather conditions of the area. He said some cars can't even make it up the hill of the Cayuga County Office Building's parking lot. 

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Man sentenced for attempted rape, possessing child porn in Cayuga County

AUBURN — A 35-year-old man will spend the next two years in prison for attempted rape and possessing an obscene sexual performance by a child in the village of Weedsport. 

Jason Stein was one of 11 people arrested in June 2016 during a prostitution sting in Cayuga County. At the time, New York State Police said investigators posted a fake online ad for a mother-daughter prostitution team stating that the daughter was 12 years old. 

Stein answered the ad, intending to have sex with the woman and her daughter in exchange for money. He was subsequently arrested and charged with first-degree attempted rape and second-degree attempted patronizing a person for prostitution. He was also charged with possessing a video of an adult female having sex with an 8-year-old girl. 

In November, Stein pleaded guilty to a reduced count of second-degree attempted rape and possessing child pornography, both class E felonies, and on Thursday he appeared before Judge Thomas Leone for sentencing. 

When asked if he had anything to say to the court, Stein said there were "really no words" he could add. 

"Words can't undo what I did," he said. 

Stein was sentenced to a total of two years in prison followed by 10 years post-release supervision. Upon his release, Stein will also have to register as a sex offender. 

Also in court: 

• A 16-year-old admitted trying to rob a man in downtown Auburn last summer. 

Tertius Lovett, a former resident of Cayuga Centers, pleaded guilty Thursday to third-degree attempted robbery, a felony, and third-degree menacing, a misdemeanor. 

During his plea, Lovett told the court that he and a co-defendant attempted to mug a 38-year-old man outside the Cayuga County Courthouse in June. However, Lovett said the victim tricked the teens into following him to Parker's Grille, where he then called police. 

In exchange for Lovett's pleas of guilty, Leone agreed to sentence the teen to one to three years in prison with a shock camp order. He also said he would consider granting youthful offender status at the time of sentencing. 

Meanwhile, Lovett was remanded to the Erie County Holding Center, where he is being held on a separate charge of assault. He will remain in custody until his sentencing in Cayuga County May 10. 

• An Auburn woman was sentenced Thursday for violating an order of protection and the terms and conditions of her probation. 

In December, Joelle Wells, 22, of 35 Catlin St., pleaded guilty to first-degree criminal contempt. At the time, she said she met a woman and intended to harass her despite an order of protection. 

Wells was previously sentenced to three years probation in 2015 for fourth-degree tampering with a witness. On Thursday, she apologized to the court for violating her probation and said she "hoped for the best." 

Leone ultimately restored Wells and sentenced her to five years probation for contempt. He said he was pleased to see she was working to take care of her home and children, but warned her this would be her last chance at probation. 

"If you have another hiccup, you're going to jail or prison," Leone said. 

Jason M. Stein