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AURELIUS
Aurelius to renovate state police station, hopes to secure new lease deal

AURELIUS — The town of Aurelius plans to make renovations to the New York State Police barracks on Clark Street Road in hopes that the state will renew its lease of the building for another 10 years.

Over 20 years ago, when troopers outgrew their previous station in Aurelius, the town built a new building and leased it to the state. That lease expired in November, and the town has been working to keep the troopers where they are.

“There was some talk of (the troopers) moving out to the county sheriff's office,” said town board member Stanley Hoskins. Instead of having both entities out in Sennett, “we decided we wanted their presence in our town.”

New York State Police is looking to renew its lease but the state is requiring some renovations to the bathrooms and the locker room before it does, Aurelius Town Supervisor Ed Ide said.

“What seemed to be a shortfalling was the size of a locker room we built,” Hoskins said, adding that it was built to accommodate 22 troopers and they are reaching that capacity.

The town plans to convert a larger room downstairs to create a bigger locker room, Hoskins said, explaining that the room being converted initially served as an exercise room but another room with mats used for combat training now fulfills the purpose of the exercise room.

The state wants to know the cost of the locker room before renewing the lease so that expenditure can be rolled into the new lease, Hoskins said.

The town initially accepted a bid for the project, but officials recently realized they will need to go through the bidding process again.

“We got three bids for the project, the lowest bidder realized he made an error, so he wishes to withdraw it,” Hoskins said.

At a meeting Thursday, Feb. 8, the town board discussed the low bid initially accepted, for $28,500, and how the bidder will be retracting it. The two other bids received for the renovations were for $48,500 and $63,000.

During the meeting, the town passed a unanimous motion to reject all bids and start over by rebidding the entire project. The town plans to reopen to accept bids for one month beginning March 8.

Simultaneously, the town will be communicating with state officials in Albany to get approval to change the budget to $50,000, plus or minus 10 percent, up from the original budget of $35,000, Hoskins said.

Because the state's lease is expired, payments have stopped since November, said Martha Russell, the town's bookkeeper. The amount of rent changed over time during the lease period, but the past few years the state paid $3,875 monthly to rent the building.

“I don't have any real concerns that (the state) won't renew,” Ide said, adding that the building was custom made for the troopers.


NEW YORK
Senate GOP: Cuomo tax changes unlikely by budget deadline

ALBANY — Republicans who control the New York state Senate threw a major roadblock in front of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's tax code restructuring proposals Tuesday, announcing their opposition to the Democrat's plan and essentially guaranteeing it won't make it into the state budget by its April 1 deadline.

Senate GOP Leader John Flanagan of Long Island, the Legislature's most powerful Republican, said he was skeptical of the state tax overhaul Cuomo unveiled Monday. When asked during a Capitol news conference if Cuomo's plans could be worked out in budget negotiations by the end of March, Flanagan replied, "no."

Flanagan's reaction came a day after Cuomo administration officials released the first details of his response to the federal tax overhaul that's expected to adversely affect New York state. Cuomo's proposal includes a voluntary payroll tax that companies could adopt in lieu of the existing income tax paid by workers.

Flanagan said he was particularly skeptical of the "voluntary" part of that Cuomo provision.

"We need to see the details because sometimes voluntary is not voluntary," he said.

Cuomo's ambitious plan aims to restructure the state's tax code to ease the burden of the federal law enacted just before Christmas. The law will raise many New Yorkers' federal taxes by sharply capping a deduction for state and local taxes that was especially popular in high-tax states.

Cuomo's tax overhaul plan was included in several budget amendments he released Monday. He wants the plan to be included in a final budget worked out with the Senate and Democrat-controlled Assembly. Both the Senate and Cuomo have proposed decoupling the state tax code from the federal law in order to soften the impact of the federal tax changes on New York taxpayers.

Flanagan commented during the Senate GOP's unveiling of its 2018 "jobs and opportunity" agenda, which focuses on cutting taxes on small businesses, improving or eliminating some state economic development programs, and reducing red tape.

"The end game here is jobs, good, quality, high-paying jobs," Flanagan said.

Senate Republicans control the chamber in a coalition with eight breakaway Democrats known as the Independent Democratic Conference. Mainstream Senate Democrats blasted their GOP counterparts as aiding Trump administration policies they say will hurt the state's middle class.

"We need real solutions to lower taxes for middle class New Yorkers not just empty promises and fake rhetoric," spokesman Mike Murphy said.


ENVIRONMENT
Trump budget again targets regional water cleanup programs

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — For a second consecutive year, President Donald Trump is trying to drastically reduce or eliminate federal support of cleanups for iconic U.S. waterways including the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay.

Trump's proposed 2019 budget for the Environmental Protection Agency released Monday would cut funding by 90 percent for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative — an Obama-era plan for dealing with pervasive pollution in the world's biggest surface freshwater system — and a similar program for Chesapeake Bay, the nation's largest estuary.

It would remove all EPA funding of cleanup programs for the Gulf of Mexico, Lake Champlain, Long Island Sound, San Francisco Bay, Puget Sound and South Florida, including the Everglades and Keys. The administration's EPA spending plan said the agency would "encourage state, tribal and local entities to continue to make progress" in those places.

The administration sought to zero out spending on the regional water initiatives in its first budget a year ago, describing them as "primarily local efforts" and contending state and local governments were capable of paying for them.

But Congress decided otherwise, illustrating the popularity of the cleanups among lawmakers of both parties and voters who want progress on long-standing problems such as toxic algae that fouls beaches, invasive species that starve out native fish, and industrial toxins embedded in river bottoms.

The Great Lakes program is the largest, taking in about $300 million annually since it was established in 2010. Trump's budget would give it $30 million. Chesapeake Bay, which is getting nearly $73 million this year, would receive $7.3 million. The other programs receive significantly less federal funding.

Supporters pledged another fight to keep them intact.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, denounced the proposed Great Lakes cuts as "outrageous." Rep. Bill Huizenga, a Michigan Republican, pledged to seek full funding of the initiative, which he said boosts the economy and environment of an eight-state region extending from New York to Minnesota.

"Why the Trump administration would continue to try to slash funding for the world's most important freshwater resource is beyond my comprehension," said Mike Shriberg, regional director for the National Wildlife Federation.

The Chesapeake Bay program, which dates to 1983, has accelerated in recent years in the watershed's six states and Washington, D.C., with adoption of pollution reduction targets. Trump's budget would provide money for water quality monitoring but none for cleanup work, advocates said.

"A cut of this magnitude would severely damage Bay restoration efforts, just at a time when we are seeing significant progress," said William Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox declined comment.


Local
CORRECTIONS
Drugs mailed to inmate at Auburn Correctional Facility

Corrections officers at Auburn Correctional Facility discovered drugs in packages mailed to an inmate at the prison on Wednesday. 

According to a press release from the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association, officers found 11 grams of heroin sealed inside a can and approximately 196 grams of synthetic marijuana hidden in four other cans. The drugs were discovered during a routine search in the prison's package room and have been placed in evidence, according to the release. 

The drugs were sent to an inmate, whose name is not being released, that is serving 25 years to life for second-degree murder and first-degree burglary. 

"This recent seizure certainly serves as an example of how dangerous contraband continues to make its way into our state prisons," NYSCOPBA Western Region Vice President Joe Miano said. "Since the Vendor Pilot Program was suspended, the ongoing problem of contraband being mailed to prisons or being brought in by visitors highlights the need for serious policy changes on how inmates receive items from outside of the facilities. Until those changes occur, this is going to be a recurring theme."

The vendor program restricted the types of packages that could be sent to inmates to items purchased from a list of approved vendors in an attempt to combat contraband being sent to prisoners through the mail.

The policy was launched by the state on Jan. 2 and then suspended 10 days later following outcry from family members of the incarcerated and criminal justice reform advocacy groups. The vendor program was only tested in three state prisons; ACF was not one of them. 


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CAYUGA COUNTY
Cayuga County one step closer to joining class action opioid lawsuit

AUBURN — A Cayuga County Legislature committee has unanimously voted for the county to join a class action lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies that manufacture opioids. 

Legislators at the Government Operations Committee meeting Tuesday night discussed which law firm to hire, ultimately going with the committee's recommendation from October, New York City law firm Napoli Shkolnik PLLC. 

While the committee unanimously passed the hire and joining of the suit, Legislator Tucker Whitman voiced some concerns he had. The multi-county lawsuit claims that there's a link between addiction to prescription drugs and substance abuse. Whitman said he'd yet to receive an answer on how much documentation the county has on whether prescription opioid medications are leading to drug addiction and use in Cayuga County specifically. 

"I'm a little leery," he said. "I guess we don't have a lot to lose."

Cayuga County Administrator J. Justin Woods said he expected the attorneys the county hires would help county staff walk through how to find that information. 

"There's no coincidence that this is a national epidemic," Woods said. "I think the bigger issue is addressing the problem and creating accountability."

Onondaga County has already joined the lawsuit in addition to about a dozen other New York counties. States across the nation are also seeking damages against pharmaceutical companies.

The resolution authorizing the litigation still needs to go through the Ways and Means Committee and the full Legislature. According to the county's online calendar, Ways and Means will meet at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 20 in the Sixth Floor Chambers of the Cayuga County Office Building, 160 Genesee St., Auburn. 

In other news: 

• The Ward W. O'Hara Agricultural Museum could soon be getting a new garage to exhibit two antique Model T cars and farm equipment. The Legislature's Public Works Committee passed a resolution for the project Tuesday night. 

The structure will be paid for completely through donations, and Cayuga County Parks and Trails and Buildings and Grounds Director Gary Duckett said it will not exceed $10,000. 

The 20-foot by 24-foot garage would be assembled on a runner, thus allowing it to be moved at anytime if necessary, according to project proposal documents. Visitors would not be allowed to enter the garage, but the doors would be opened so they could view its contents. The garage would also be a workshop for repairs of museum equipment. 

Legislator Joe Bennett asked Duckett whether the building coincided with the Emerson Park Master Plan, a document detailing future projects for the county's park in Owasco. He pointed out that the body had recently dismissed tentative plans from the Cayuga County Agricultural Society for building fairground structures in a similar location. 

Duckett said it did go along with the park's plan because that document includes supporting the museum and its activities.