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Tour Cayuga: Virtual tourism program highlights county's top destinations

AUBURN — The Cayuga County Office of Tourism unveiled an e-learning program that takes users on a virtual trip through popular county tourism destinations. 

The program was developed for tourism employees — such as those at historic sites, hotels and restaurants — to use to broaden their knowledge of the tourism industry in the county, Cayuga County Tourism Executive Director Meg Vanek said. The county worked with Andrea Bornheim of VantEdge e-Learning to create the program. Vanek said Cayuga County is definitely the first county in the region, and maybe even the state, to offer this type of e-learning course. 

"The goal is to have front line staff and volunteers representing the county in a consistent manner, knowing what the positives and the assets are and trying to sell the county to increase revenue. We want to increase tourism and grow tourism in the area," Bornheim said Thursday to a group of county tourism leaders representing sites such as the Port Byron Old Erie Canal Heritage Park, the Hilton Garden Inn and the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse.  

The program is free to use and anyone who is interested can take the course to learn more about tourism in the county — they do not have to work in the tourism industry. Those who complete the five-module program will receive a $25 gift card of their choosing from The Fargo, Simple Roast Coffee, Dunkin' Donuts or an Auburn downtown gift certificate. Any business that gets 20-percent or more of its employees to go through the training will receive a free highlight in the 2019 Cayuga County visitors guide. 

Through the five interactive modules, users will be taken on a tour of the county's wineries and culinary sites, historic and cultural sites and recreational offerings. Each module takes about 15 minutes to complete and includes videos, games and quizzes. Places such as the Inns of Aurora, Seward House, Emerson Park and the Sterling Renaissance Festival are highlighted on the virtual tour. 

The program is best accessed on a laptop, desktop or tablet and requires the most up-to-date versions of Google Chrome, Internet Explorer or Microsoft Edge to run. The program can be accessed on a smart phone, Bornheim said, but is not responsive so it will appear small and won't be as good of an experience.

The program took a year to develop and cost $10,000. It will cost $10,000 annually to maintain the program, Vanek said. 

"I'm really proud that you were able to put this together," Cayuga County Director of Planning and Economic Development Steve Lynch said. 

Vanek said she still has a lot of work to do to promote the program and get people to take the course. 

"I'm very excited about the program but now my big concentration is selling it to our partners and getting them to take it because it could be the most beautiful program in the world but if I don't get people to take it then it's not been worth while," she said. "I still have a lot of work to do but it's work I'm happy to do." 

To access the program, visit and click on the "partners" tab at the top of the website. Those interested in using the program can contact Vanek at (315) 255-1658 with questions or comments. 

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Fire closes Savannah Bank in Port Byron

PORT BYRON — Savannah Bank in Port Byron will be closed for several days after a small fire broke out in the building Thursday evening. 

A passerby noticed the fire inside the 126 Main St. building and called 911 just before 7 p.m., according to a Cayuga County 911 dispatcher. 

Initial reports indicated a chair was on fire inside the bank, which had closed for the day and was empty. Port Byron Fire Chief Corey Rooker said an electrical fixture above the chair failed and produced sparks that ignited the carpet and the chair. 

The fire was extinguished in less than five minutes by firefighters, who broke a window and put out the flames with a fire extinguisher, Rooker said. No injuries were reported. Rooker said the bank will be "closed for some time" for cleanup. 

"We're lucky that the right person was driving by and noticed it and called it in before the fire got out of control," he said. 

A sign on the building's door indicates the bank is closed due to the fire and directs customers to visit the bank's other locations in Savannah, Auburn, Waterloo or Fair Haven until the Port Byron location reopens. 

Two retired state troopers picked as Skaneateles school district guards

Two retired police officers will be patrolling the Skaneateles Central School District.

Retired New York State Police troopers Aileen Sherman and James O'Brien were approved "effective immediately" by the board of education at a special board session Thursday, district Superintendent Ken Slentz said in an email. The two will work part-time until the end of the school year, according to a district document outlining the recommendations.

Sherman served for over 30 years, including work as a state police academy instructor and over 20 years as a field training officer, according to the document. The document also explained Sherman's other experiences.

"Over the course of Mrs. Sherman’s tenure as a New York State trooper, she served six different assignments in post 9/11 New York City, served in post-(Hurricane) Katrina Louisiana, and served a presidential detail as well," the document said.

The document notes that Sherman's three children attended school in the district, and her husband works as a school bus driver for the transportation company First Student, which serves the Skaneateles district. 

O'Brien also served for over 30 years, including as a commander responsible for over 80 troopers, the document said. He also worked through BOCES and school districts on emergency drills and safety and security plans, and has training in fields such as active shooter exercises, emergency management and incident command. Most of O'Brien's work was in Elbridge and Lafayette. The document said O'Brien's wife, Jane, serves as a Skaneateles teacher and his children also went to school in the district.

"Given Mr. O’Brien’s experience, training, knowledge of the community, knowledge of many of our families and staff members, and his desire to assist administration in our safety and security processes, Mr. O’Brien is also an excellent candidate for the position of School Guard," the document said.

Slentz previously said that district has been focusing on school safety after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida and an incident in which the Skaneateles middle and high schools went into lockdown after a bullet was found in a bathroom on March 1.

The board is also exploring other measures, as the district approved the creation of an advisory committee to come up with suggestions for improving security. According to the district's website, the committee could suggest options such as hiring a school resource officer, an extra counselor or social worker or "additional research-based programming being initiated within the district to better serve the needs of our students," among other strategies.

Giilbrand's PAC donates to Balter for Congress

Through her political action committee, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is showing her support for the designated Democratic candidate in the 24th Congressional District race.

Gillibrand's PAC, Off the Sidelines, donated $5,000 to Dana Balter's campaign. Balter is vying for the Democratic nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. John Katko, a two-term Republican.

Balter's campaign announced the donation Friday. The contribution was made during the first fundraising quarter, which ended March 31.

The donation was revealed ahead of the deadline for candidates to submit campaign finance reports to the Federal Election Commission. The deadline for the quarterly report is Sunday.

Balter's FEC filing wasn't immediately available. Aside from the Off the Sidelines donation, the campaign hasn't provided any details about its first quarter fundraising performance.

Under FEC rules, PACs may donate no more than $5,000 per election to a candidate's committee. The maximum amount Balter could receive from Off the Sidelines is $10,000 — $5,000 for the primary, which is June 26, and $5,000 for the general election in November.

"I am proud of the support our campaign has built and I am honored to have Off the Sidelines' support," Balter said in a statement.

Gillibrand, D-N.Y., hasn't formally endorsed Balter, but the donation from Off the Sidelines is an indication she is supporting the Syracuse Democrat in the 24th district race.

Earlier this week, Balter filed petitions to the state Board of Elections to appear on the Democratic, Working Families and Women's Equality party lines. Her campaign collected more than 8,000 signatures during the petitioning process.

She will likely face a Democratic primary. Juanita Perez Williams, who ran for Syracuse mayor in 2017, launched her campaign last week and collected more than 3,200 signatures to appear on the Democratic primary ballot.

Barring any challenges, Balter and Perez Williams will face off in the June 26 primary election.

Balter has the support of several Democratic-aligned organizations, including the four county committees and local Indivisible groups. The national Indivisible movement has endorsed her campaign.

But Perez Williams has the backing of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Washington-based group tasked with getting Democrats elected to the House of Representatives. The DCCC's support could play a pivotal role in the primary.

The DCCC's involvement in the primary has upset central New York Democratic leaders, several of whom support Balter.

In a statement about Off the Sidelines' donating to Balter's campaign, Cayuga County Democratic Chairman Ian Phillips didn't mention the DCCC by name. But he urged "other groups in touch with our district" to support Balter.

"I'm glad influential groups like Off The Sidelines are supporting Dana's campaign," he said. "The people of central New York stand with Dana Balter."