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Cayuga County with four of top 10 highest paid government employees in CNY

Four Cayuga County government employees — two psychiatrists, the district attorney and a college president — are among the highest paid local government employees in central New York, according to a report released Wednesday by an Albany think tank. 

The Empire Center for Public Policy's annual "What They Make" report found that Dr. Abbas Ispahani, a psychiatrist at the Cayuga County Community Mental Health Center in Auburn, was the highest paid municipal government employee in central New York during the state's 2016-17 fiscal year. Ispahani earned $205,708.

The third and fourth spots on central New York's top 10 list are held by Cayuga County employees. Brian Durant, president of Cayuga Community College, earned $186,785. Cayuga County District Attorney Jon Budelmann's pay was $186,415. 

Dr. Michael Pratts, who is also a psychiatrist at the Cayuga County Community Mental Health Center, was seventh among top earners in central New York. He was paid $180,622. 

The Empire Center said the average salaries were calculated using regular pay, overtime and unused sick and vacation time. The amounts don't include fringe benefits, such as health insurance and employer pension contributions.

The trend in central New York was similar in other regions throughout upstate. Community college leaders, district attorneys and mental health professionals ranked in the top 10 for average pay, according to the report. In other regions, such as Long Island and the Mid-Hudson, police officers were the top earners. 

Among all local government employees enrolled in the state retirement system, the highest-paid employee was Thomas Donnelly, a Ramapo town police officer who earned $441,968. The top 50 earners included 47 police officers. 

"Personnel costs are the biggest part of most local government budgets, and thereby the biggest driver behind our high property taxes," said Tim Hoefer, executive director of the Empire Center. "This report provides a tool for local officials and taxpayers who want to see how their community stacks up." 

Other findings in the report: 

• Auburn city employees have the highest average pay in central New York, topping their counterparts in Syracuse, Fulton, Cortland, Oneida and Oswego. Auburn's workforce of 155 employees had an average salary of $48,251 in 2016-17. The average pay for Syracuse employees was $41,703. 

• Auburn firefighters and police officers earn less than other first responders in central New York. The average salary for Auburn police officers was $76,982, which ranked fourth among the region's six cities. The city's firefighters had the second-lowest average salary with $69,267. 

• While Cayuga County boasts four of the top 10 highest-paid government employees in the region, the overall county workforce doesn't hold the No. 1 spot for pay. Cayuga County's employees ranked fourth in the region with an average pay of $41,751. 

• Among towns in central New York, two Cayuga County municipalities have the highest paid staffs. Sennett, which has eight employees, held the top spot with average pay of $46,265. The runner-up was the town of Aurelius and its seven employees, who collected an average of $44,743. 

What They Make: 2016-17

Fleming supervisor, challenger hold on to ballot lines in primaries

Republican and Democratic supervisor nominees in Fleming held off write-in challenges from each other to keep their places on the general election ballots.

Complete results from primary voting in Fleming were not posted by the Cayuga County Board of Elections until after press time on Tuesday night.

In one primary for the town supervisor position, current incumbent and Democrat Gary Searing was challenged via write-in in his party's primary. Searing received 90 votes compared with 37 write-in votes for current town board member Donald Oltz, who had already secured the Republican general election ballot line for supervisor. Oltz fended off a similar write-in challenge in a Conservative Party primary by collecting 19 votes vs. four for Searing. In a write-in contest for the Independence Party line, Searing beat Oltz 6-3.

Fleming also had town board primaries. Gerald Dudek, one of the two Democrat candidates on the November ballot, and Russell Bell, one of the two Republican candidates, were listed in a Conservative Party primary against potential write-in candidates. Bell received 17 votes and Dudek had 13, while Karen Vanliew received 11 write-in votes and Frederick Allen Jr. had two write-ins. In an Independence Party write-in primary for town board, Dudek and Allen each had three votes, Russell had two and Vanliew had one.

Allen Jr. had already secured a Democrat line and Vanliew had locked up a Republican line on the November ballot.

In other Cayuga County primary races for which results were not clear Tuesday night:

Cayuga County Legislature District 4: Incumbent Grant Kyle, who has the Democratic and Working Families line already locked for the general election, received 11 write-in votes in an Independence Party primary to defeat Republican and Conservative nominee Chris Petrus, who was listed on the ballot but received eight votes. Those two will face off in the November election to determine who represents the town of Brutus.

Cayuga County Legislature District 9: In a write-in Independence Party primary contest, Democratic nominee Kathleen Gorr received six votes, three better than runner-up Charles Ripley, who is on the Republican line for the general election. Gorr is also going to be listed on an independent ballot line called Fix Our Roads. The district includes the towns of Summerhill, Sempronius, Moravia and Niles.

Cayuga County considers joining opioids lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies
 GwenCraig2  / 

AUBURN — Cayuga County could join a multi-county lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies that sell opioids.

County legislators at both Judicial and Public Safety and Government Operations Committees discussed the possibility Wednesday night, and ultimately decided to schedule a meeting with two New York City law firms spearheading the lawsuit.

Cayuga County Attorney Fred Westphal said the lawsuit was originally filed by Nassau County. Since then at least nine other New York counties have joined, hoping to recoup costs associated with drug addiction and overdoses. According to Cayuga County Coroner Adam Duckett's monthly report to the Legislature, five of 50 deaths he has investigated this year were from drug overdoses.

District Attorney Jon Budelmann said when doctors write a prescription for pain medication, a patient can easily become addicted. 

"We're left cleaning up the mess, which is young kids dying, rehab, which is $30,000 a month plus, prosecutions," he listed. "The drug trafficking drives a huge amount of the crime we see."

Government Operations Committee Chair Ryan Foley said there's also costs associated with emergency responders using Narcan, an opioid inhibitor. Foley added that should the county join and the lawsuit succeeds, there would not be a windfall of money to the county. There's a cap to how much counties can get for each statistic they add to the lawsuit, he said.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is in touch with one of the law firms to collect data, Westphal said, though it was unclear if the state would pursue anything. Collecting data, Westphal continued, is an unknown cost to the county at this point. Considering that the district attorney's office, the Cayuga County Sheriff's Office, the department of social services, the probation department, and others would all have to examine the cost effects of the opioid epidemic on their county departments going back a maximum of six years, it could be a significant commitment. 

That concerned Legislator Tucker Whitman and Legislator Aileen-McNabb Coleman. They both wanted to know whether the information departments would need to supply would examine things like heroin deals on the street, or be as wide-ranging as someone getting dental surgery and using pain killers after.

"It sounds like a lot of weeds to be digging through to try to pick up some nickels," Whitman said.

"There's a lot of unknowns, and I didn't know the parameters of which they're going to investigate this,"McNabb-Coleman added.

Legislator Andy Dennison and Tim Lattimore discussed how there could be a benefit to joining the lawsuit now because the pharmaceutical companies could decide to settle before taking it to court. 

"If eight other counties have already looked into this and agree to it, I think we should research it and get into it," Lattimore said.

Westphal said he would reach out to the law firms involved in the suit. Legislators hope they will present at the next Government Operations Committee meeting in October.

Cato-Meridian school district eyes preliminary plans for capital project
 Kelly Rocheleau  / 

The Cato-Meridian Central School District is in the early stages of planning a capital project taxpayers could vote for by year's end.

The $3 million to $5 million project and the possible referendum for it were discussed at a district board of education meeting Monday. District Superintendent Noel Patterson said Tuesday that although the exact costs and scope haven't been determined yet, the project will focus on updating and renovating district facilities.

The three main items the district wants to cover are replacing the district pool's dehumidification​ system, resurfacing the track and replacing a portion of the Cato-Meridian Community Recreation Center's roof, Patterson said. He said the district would also like to fit in renovations like work on various classrooms and lockers.

Patterson said he will be meeting with financial advisers in the hopes of having "much more concrete numbers" and other details fleshed out by the next board meeting on Sept. 26. By October, the district would like to have the board vote on whether to hold a public referendum on the project, and, if approved, hold that vote for taxpayers in December, he said.

The endeavor is intended to have no financial impact on the district's tax levy, Patterson said. If it gets the green light from voters, the state education department would then review the proposal. The district's estimated building aid from the state for the 2017-2018 school year is around 88 percent, Patterson said, and if the extent of the project is found to fall within aid eligibility, the costs will be aided at that level.

The superintendent said the replaced dehumidification system​ would be for the pool in the recreation center attached to the elementary school. He also said the district's track was first installed in 2005 and has been patched numerous times in the following years, especially from water damage. He noted that resurfacing the area would allow the district to avoid more patching.

Taxpayers approved the creation of a capital reserve of a maximum amount of $5 million back in May to fund future projects. The school board approved the transfer of $1,208,111 from the district's unappropriated fund balance to the capital fund balance Monday.