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Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen 

Jamie Scharett, center, from Team Unity House, gets a high-five from Sara Glauberman after making a hole-in-one during the 25th annual United Way Miniature Golf Tournament Wednesday at the Holiday Inn in Auburn.

Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen 

Abner celebrates with Pat Collier, left, and Terry Clifford after making a hole-in-one.

State funding cuts could impact Booker T. Washington Community Center in Auburn

A funding source the Booker T. Washington Community Center in Auburn relies on could receive less state funding in the next state budget.

The New York State Network for Youth Success, a group supporting after school programs, released a statement this week calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature to supply more funding to the state's Advantage After School program. The group is asking the state to fund the program at $22.3 million, which it received in the 2016-2017 budget. The group said the preliminary 2018-2019 budget calls for lowering the funding to $17.3 million.

The Booker T. Washington center receives two grants of $171,875 annually through the Advantage After School program, said Denise Farrington, the community center's executive director. One grant is split between after-school programs at the center and at the high school, and another goes to the center's after-school programs at Casey Park Elementary School and Auburn Junior High School.

The center is currently locked in to receive the same amounts as part of a five-year contract, with one year remaining, so Farrington said the funding for the 2018-2019 budget wouldn't directly impact the center, but she is concerned about the future funding implications. The center's new contract would go into effect Sept. 1, 2019, Farrington said.

She is worried the center will receive less for those contracts if the funding trend continues. The center's previous contract was for two separate grants of about $185,000 each, Farrington said.

A further reduction in funding would mean cuts in services such as tutoring, homework assistance, pregnancy prevention services, and food for students, Farrington said.

"It's less contact with the kids that need a place to go," she said.

The center employs around 50 people, with the four after-school programs covering around 400 students. Farrington said the state dictates there must be one staff member for every 10 students, and more children have flocked to the center's programs over the years. This has resulted in more staff, but with grant funding remaining the same. Previous grant cuts forced the center to cut back on services such as transportation and Friday field trips, Farrington said.

Farrington said the grants alone can't fund the programs, but the whittled funding has required the center to turn to other benefactors, such as United Way, to offset the difference. There have been efforts to advocate for more funding, Farrington said, as parents of children in the center's programs recently sent postcards to Cuomo's office, explaining what the the program has meant for their children.

"Nobody realizes how much of a connection an after school program has for our families," Farrington said.

Federal court denies immediate injunction in Cayuga Nation leadership dispute

A federal court has denied an immediate injunction to block a federal decision recognizing a group of Cayuga Nation citizens as its leaders, according to a press release.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs, a branch of the U.S. Department of Interior, recognized Clint Halftown and his council as the nation's leaders in December 2016. The decision attempted to end a longstanding dispute between Halftown, his followers and a group of chiefs and clan mothers formerly known as the Unity Council.

Attorney Joseph Heath, who represents those opposing Halftown, filed paperwork in September challenging the BIA's decision in federal court in Washington D.C. The district court this week rejected a request for an immediate injunction to block the decision, Halftown's Cayuga Nation Council said in a press release.

Cayuga Nation decision

"The Court found that the group's legal challenges were 'based on speculation, assignations of nefarious intent and mere disagreements with the decisions reached by the agency,'" according to the release. "It stated that the group's motion 'was not an efficient use of the parties' or the Court's time and resources,' and that the group's claims were 'not supported by the record.' The Court held that the Interior Department did no more than provide 'technical assistance' on a process through which the Cayuga Nation's own citizens affirmed the leadership group led by Halftown as the rightful governing body of the Cayuga Nation."

That process included mailed ballots to choose Halftown as the nation's leader, with no other option. Unity Council members have said in the past that the process goes against Haudenosaunee traditions and customs and the ballots were not mailed to all nation citizens.

Heath did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

While the injunction was dismissed, court proceedings are continuing. 

"I am very encouraged that with this ruling the federal government continues to do the right thing: respect tribal sovereignty and recognize that the Cayuga Nation itself has resolved the leadership dispute," Halftown said in the release. "The Cayuga Nation Council is gratified by the decision, and we look forward to moving forward with important initiatives for Cayuga citizens, which the Unity group attempted to stop with their motion."

Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen 

Joe Picciano uses his putter like a pool cue during the United Way Miniature Golf Tournament.

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ARISE, Bizzari offering conflicting accounts of why mental health clinic won't open in Auburn

A longtime central New York organization and Cayuga County's director of community services have conflicting accounts to explain why a satellite mental health office supported by a $750,000 grant will not be opening in Auburn. 

ARISE, with the support of a $750,000 award from the Central New York Care Collaborative, proposed expanding its mental health services by opening a satellite office in Cayuga County. The nonprofit already operates outpatient mental health services in Onondaga and Oswego counties. 

According to a timeline provided by ARISE, two members of its management team met with Ray Bizzari, who oversees the Cayuga County Office of Mental Health, in June. At that meeting, ARISE says Bizzari verbally supported the organization's plans to expand mental health services in Cayuga County. 

Tania Anderson, CEO of ARISE, wasn't present for the meeting but was told by her staff that Bizzari supported the opening of a satellite outpatient mental health clinic. In addition to the verbal support, Bizzari signed a letter supporting ARISE's project. 

"When we left that meeting in June, we had the understanding that we had a green light for both the expansion and the grant," Anderson said. "We would not have submitted the grant. We would not have relied on that to expand our physical space if we did not have that support because our intention was always to be collaborative, to be upfront, to be transparent. We knew we needed to work with him."

In September, ARISE learned it would receive the $750,000 grant from the Central New York Care Collaborative. Anderson explained that the organization then leased, designed and built out space for its outpatient clinic in Auburn. The nonprofit signed a 10-year lease, she said, believing that they had Bizzari's support. 

Two days after being awarded the grant, ARISE submitted its application for the proposed Auburn satellite clinic to the state Office of Mental Health. The next day is when Anderson says ARISE learned that Bizzari had withdrawn his support. 

Bizzari disputes the claim that he ever supported ARISE's plan to open a satellite mental health clinic in Cayuga County. 

"If the county did determine there was a need, then (a request for proposals) would be issued for a fully integrated, open access clinic provider and the Community Services Board and other stakeholders would assist in determining who that provider should be," he wrote in an email to The Citizen. "I restated my position in September but (ARISE) submitted the application to OMH anyway."

There are also conflicting views of whether there is a need for another mental health clinic in Cayuga County. ARISE cited a needs assessment conducted in 2016 to support its plan to open a satellite clinic in Auburn. 

Anderson reiterated that position in a recent interview with The Citizen. 

"When wrote the grant, in order to justify our plan for the funders and the need for services, we relied on this public data as indications of need and how we were proposing to meet that need ... It wasn't something we entered into lightly at all," she said. 

Bizzari disagrees that there is a need for more mental health services. He highlighted existing services provided in the county, including more than 100 walk-in patients a month at the county-run clinic, the opening of two primary care offices this year and the presence of 11 satellite clinics in schools. 

The Community Services Board, Bizzari said, prepares an annual comprehensive plan for mental health services. The planning process, he continued, is "transparent and open to the public." But he claimed ARISE didn't participate in the mental health needs assessment. 

"They cited a sentence in a previous year's plan that indicated a need to expand mental health services and they used that as evidence to support their plan to push their clinic in," he said. 

Despite Bizzari's opposition, ARISE renewed attempts to get him on board with the organization's plan. But in December, Bizzari sent an email to Anderson notifying her that he reviewed the satellite proposal "and the need is not here." 

In his email to The Citizen, Bizzari described the potential satellite clinic as a "nonstarter." 

"ARISE's proposal duplicates existing initiatives ... but nothing stops them from using the grant funds to duplicate what's already been done or is being done by the local providers," he wrote. "More of something isn't always the answer." 

Anderson said Bizzari's email to her indicates that Cayuga County is a closed market for other mental health care providers. 

"Some people might think choice is a good thing. Some people might think competition is a good thing," she said. 

ARISE made last-ditch attempts in January and February to open the satellite clinic, but were unsuccessful. The organization worked with the Central New York Care Collaborative to shift the grant to another county, according to the nonprofit's timeline. 

Earlier this month, the Central New York Collaborative signed off on ARISE's plan to use the grant to expand mental health services for Oswego County residents. The group noted that the expansion is supported by the "local government unit," Bizzari's counterpart in Oswego County. 

Second public hearing held on Shakelton Inn tax abatement request by Inns of Aurora

AUBURN — A second public comment session regarding the Inns of Aurora's requested tax abatement for their Shakelton House Project was held during a regular Cayuga County Industrial Development Agency meeting on Tuesday.

An initial public hearing was held in the village of Aurora on March 22. The comment period during the CCIDA meeting was held to continue discussion on the issue and allow written comments to be sent to the agency. More than 20 community members attended the public comment period and CCIDA said at the meeting that it received 35 to 40 letters.

During the public comment period on Tuesday, Tracy Verrier, executive director of the County Economic Development Agency, explained the tax exemption requests for the project, based off the project's total budget of $5,987,000. The Inns are requesting both a standard 10-year PILOT agreement that would save them about $200,000, as well as a sales tax exemption for materials purchased during the construction period, which would amount to about $360,000. If both requests were approved by the county, the Inns would receive a total tax exemption of $560,360 by the end of the PILOT.

A large majority of those at the meeting supported the county approving the tax exemptions.

Many were employees of the Inns, representing a range of jobs from part-time servers to creative directors. Employees expressed deep appreciation for the Inns, the contribution they bring to the county through tourism. Wells College graduates spoke about getting their "first jobs" at the Inns - that have since grown into careers - and employees urged the county to approve the tax inducements so the Inns could be financially sustainable in the future.

"This company must continue to invest in property in Aurora to reach financial sustainability. We need additional rooms and demand generators to be profitable and maintain the 100 plus year-round jobs ... The ability for inducements has caused Pleasant Rowland to invest her money here in Cayuga County. We need these inducements," said Heather Davidson, director of events at the Inns of Aurora.

Others echoed Davidson's sentiments, and many employees said they bought homes in Cayuga County due to the projected growth of the Inns.

"This is exactly what rural communities need," said Steve Lynch, vice chair of the tourism board and director of the county's planning and economic development board, speaking of the energetic young people who were induced to make their homes in Cayuga County due to the opportunities and careers cultivated by the Inns.

Chris MacCormick, the chair of Aurora's Community Preservation Panel, was one of two Aurora community members present who expressed opposition to the tax inducements.

MacCormick made it clear he was "grateful for (the Inns)" and what they do provide for the community. However, one of the reasons he stated his opposition was because "Pleasant Rowland came to the village with a promise to pay for her projects in entirety," MacCormick said.

"The other thing is, among all these inn employees who are here, not one lives in Aurora, I believe - raise your hand if I'm wrong," MacCormick said, pausing. He continued after no hands went up, "so that's an issue for us."

MacCormick said when Rowland entered the village, she said "she would sustain businesses in the community interest, whether they were profitable or not," which has not been the case as with the closing of Dorie's Bakery due it not being profitable.

Sue Edinger, the chief operating officer of the inns, commented that the tax abatement, "is a tool to help a business start to grow and have time to increase their base. The likelihood of Pleasant Rowland being here for 10 years is very slim. So this second inducement in particular is likely to impact, will impact, the Inns of Aurora in the future and probably not Pleasant Rowland.

"And it's my job ... to create that sustainable business," Edinger said. "We absolutely could bring (the Inns) to profitability with the stated projects that we have moving forward. But to keep Pleasant Rowland interested in investing her money here, in Cayuga County and the village of Aurora, this is an important inducement."

Verrier explained at the end of the hearing that the tax abatement "is only an abatement on the additional value caused by the renovation," and that the tax on the base value of the property remains constant. Additionally, the PILOT would not effect special district taxes, and those payments would be on the full assessment.