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NY ag commissioner: Experts, not elected officials, should drive Owasco Lake changes

AUBURN — New York State Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Richard Ball believes local elected officials aren't the best people to be driving changes to Owasco Lake's watershed rules.

Speaking with The Citizen Monday after an address to the New York State Grange annual session in Auburn, Ball talked about water quality in the Finger Lakes and Owasco Lake in particular. Considering Cayuga County's work to update the rules and regulations of the lake's watershed, Ball said he would support "clear thinking" and "measurable steps," but called on local officials to rely on their county soil and water conservation districts for such efforts. 

"I'd rather see the soil and water conservation people, who understand the issue fully, are trained and educated about the issue, rather than a nice group of people that just got elected, try to come up with criteria," Ball said. "(This) is why we have our soil and water conservation districts. They're a great resource. They do a great job for us. We need to empower them."

Cayuga County has recently begun the process to update Owasco Lake's 1984 set of rules through two public meetings and more recently, meetings with various stakeholder groups including the agricultural community, lake shore owners and advocates, elected officials and the business and commercial contractors community. 

The steering committee guiding public outreach and gathering potential revisions to the document is made up of five elected officials including Cayuga County legislators Michael Didio and Aileen McNabb-Coleman, Scipio town board member Leslie Baxter, Owasco Town Supervisor Ed Wagner and Auburn City Councilor Debby McCormick. Also on the steering committee are Cayuga County Health Department Director Kathleen Cuddy, Owasco Watershed Lake Association member Ken Post, dairy farmer Greg Rejman and crop farmer Jim Sierzenga. 

The final draft of the rules and regulations will be reviewed by various state agencies, but the ultimate authority for their adoption lies with the state Department of Health's Division of Water Resources.

Ball said local officials must acknowledge, too, that farms are not the only player in the watershed when it comes to runoff troubles. There are residential problems such as faulty and aging septic systems, he pointed out, that should be considered.

"The issue isn't just farms," he said. "The issue is a lot of things, a lot of communities all around the watershed as well, so we need to take the 30,000-foot view of what's going on."

The state, Ball added, has devoted a myriad of resources to helping farms though he said "it never seems to be enough." He specifically pointed to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's inclusion of $17 million in this year's Environmental Protection Fund devoted to the Nonpoint Source Program. He also referenced $50 million in the budget for manure storage for concentrated animal feeding operations. Often referred to as CAFOs, those farms are typically large dairy farms with 300 or more cows and are regulated by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Ball said he hopes the manure storage effort will eventually halt winter spreading of manure. 

For smaller farms, which are not regulated by the DEC, Ball urged them to get a nutrient management plan.

"Regardless if you're a Christmas tree farm, a vegetable farm, or a dairy farm, you need to be mindful of the way you manage nutrients in the water," Ball said. "Get yourself a nutrient management plan."

Again Ball pointed to how soil and water conservation districts can help with these through the Agricultural Environmental Management program. These are voluntary-based plans, but Ball said there is financial assistance available through the state's nonpoint fund. 

During Monday's meeting at the Auburn Holiday Inn — the 145th yearly session of the New York State Grange — members had a chance to ask the commissioner some questions. Some raised concerns over the rising cost of transporting milk, insurance coverage when the public makes farm visits, and the potential affects of the hemp industry in a state where marijuana growth is illegal.

"We're looking at a broad variety of things," said New York State Grange President Stephen C. Coye. 

While the organization, which focuses on agricultural and rural communities, had yet to vote on specific issues as of Monday morning, Coye said he expected members to specifically discuss the farm bill, a federal law covering multiple agricultural issues, and milk pricing. Following the Auburn stop, Ball said he was headed to Morrisville for a farm bill listening session with DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. 

"A big part of our rural social fabric in this community is dairy farming," he said. "This is a group that thinks about issues a lot, and it's kind of precious to get them all in one place and renew the friendships, No. 1, and also to talk about the issues."

While the state Grange celebrated its 145th session, the national organization celebrated its 150th. The session began on Friday and is expected to continue until about noon Tuesday.

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Auburn police investigating death of man found outside home

The Auburn Police Department is investigating the death of a 39-year-old man who was involved in a fight early Sunday morning. 

The APD and Auburn Fire Department were called to a house at 59 N. Fulton St. around 7:30 a.m. Sunday after a passerby discovered the body of Joshua Taro on the front lawn, according to a press release from the APD. 

A subsequent investigation determined that Taro — a longtime resident of Auburn — had suffered injuries consistent with an assault, police said. Later, police discovered Taro has been involved in a fight earlier that morning at Jitz's Tavern, located at 65 Franklin St. Subsequent interviews and surveillance images confirmed witness accounts, according to the APD's release.

The cause and manner of Taro's death has not been officially determined, police said. However, a preliminary autopsy from the Onondaga County Medical Examiners Officer indicated that Taro's injuries did not result in his death. Police said further testing is being conducted.

"(Taro) did have some facial injuries, but the medical examiner was able to confidently tell us that those injuries were not the cause of death," Capt. James Moore said. "We have verified that he was in an altercation or two earlier that day." 

Moore said Taro was a patron at Jitz's Tavern sometime late Saturday or early Sunday. The altercations allegedly occurred outside the bar overnight.

The APD is requesting that anyone who has information regarding this incident, or who may have been in the area of Jitz’s Tavern or 59 N. Fulton St. Sunday between midnight and 7:30 a.m. and witnessed the fight or anything suspicious, contact the APD Detective Bureau, Detective Bryant Bergenstock, at (315) 258-9880 or (315) 253-3231. Callers may remain anonymous.

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Incumbent Searing, board member Oltz battle for Fleming supervisor seat

Two town government veterans are facing off in the Fleming supervisor race.

Incumbent Gary Searing and Donald Oltz, a town board member, are running for the position. Taxpayers will be able to make their choice in the general election Nov. 7.

Searing has served as supervisor since 2007, following a six-year stint as a Fleming town board member and being a town assessor for two years. He said he enjoys helping people through his supervisor position, and he believes people in the community have appreciated the efforts. He also praised those he works with.

"Our town runs like a well-oiled machine," Searing said.

Though he has 18 years' worth of experience in the trenches of local government, he believes he is still ready for more work. Noting he's 62, he said he thinks he can still serve "before I get too old."


Donald Oltz

In addition to his town work, Searing also keeps busy through his Auburn business, Searing Lawn Maintenance, which he has owned for 33 years.

Oltz, who has been on the town board for four years and has served on the town Zoning Board of Appeals for two years, said he opted to run after being interested in the town's operations for years. He believes "some changes at the top" must be made for the area to move forward, arguing people who have been in the same position for years can grow complacent. His board experience has helped prepare him for the supervisor seat, he said.

The former National Grid employee said he believes Fleming must share services with other towns to conserve money. Funds must also be set aside for road equipment for the future, Oltz said, as he believes farm equipment and trucks have become larger over time. He argues the roads being built can't handle the equipment.

Oltz also worked for the Cayuga County Sheriff's Office for 12 years. Before moving to Fleming, he served as a justice for the town of Niles for 10 years. His community service experience included work with various fire departments and the Four Town Ambulance. Oltz found he was able to balance his various obligations.

"You just make time for it. That's what you have to do," Oltz said.

Jeremy Houghtaling, The Citizen 

Weedsport's Sydney Gilfus, left, congratulates Ashley Wightman on her goal against New York Mills at Fayetteville-Manlius High School Sunday.

'This plan stinks': New York Democrats slam GOP tax proposal

SELKIRK — Gov. Andrew Cuomo and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer teamed up Monday to denounce a tax overhaul proposal from Republicans in Washington that they say would hurt middle-class homeowners.

The two Democrats appeared outside the home of a suburban Albany family Monday to urge the state's Republican congressional delegation to oppose what they said is a partisan attempt to hurt big Democratic states such as New York and California.

"Congress has placed a bull's-eye on New York state," Schumer said. "You don't have to have a partisan nose to smell a rat, and this plan stinks."

Taxpayers may now deduct the amount of their state and local taxes from federal taxes. It's an especially enticing option in high-tax states such as New York. Cuomo's office said that if the plan passes, nearly a third of residents in Albany County would pay some $3,000 more in taxes per year.

"This is probably one of the most destructive policies to the state of New York I've heard proposed in 30 years," Cuomo said. He noted that New York already pays far more in federal taxes than it gets back from Washington in federal spending — $48 billion more.

Several Republican members of Congress from New York have already criticized the elimination of the deduction. In June, Reps. Dan Donovan, John Faso, Peter King, Claudia Tenney, Elise Stefanik, John Katko and Lee Zeldin wrote to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin urging the administration to reconsider plans to end the deduction.

Republicans argue their plan would also increase the standard deduction and reduce business taxes in an effort to spur the economy. Supporters of eliminating the deduction say it's not fair to make the entire country pay for a deduction that taxpayers in certain states use in high numbers.

Negotiations over the proposal are continuing in Congress.