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Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen 

Printer Rob LoMascolo in his new studio in Aurora.

Audit of Auburn's 2016-2017 fiscal year budget shows 'a lot of good news'

AUBURN — An audit of the city of Auburn's 2016-2017 fiscal year budget showed no areas of concern.

Patrick Jordan, a partner with Insero & Company Certified Public Accountants, said during Thursday night's Auburn City Council meeting that he saw "a lot of good, positive things" while conducting the city's audit. 

The audit found "no material instances of noncompliance and no material internal control weaknesses regarding compliance" with all policies, according to the audit report.

Issues that were found during last year's audit, such as the city's capitalization policy and performing a formal internal risk assessment, have been rectified or are in the process of being rectified. 

"A general sense of (how) all things went to me was very well," Jordan said "The numbers are positive."

City Comptroller Laura Wills went more in-depth into the city's 2016-2017 budget.

Overall, the city's debts are decreasing, Wills said. The city's long-term debt decreased by $3.2 million from the previous fiscal year and the city's percent of debt limit exhausted is now at 56.1 percent, which is a 10-percent decrease from the previous fiscal year. 

Additionally, four out of the city's five main funds ended the year with a positive balance. The city's special grant fund netted a loss of $7,958. The city's largest fund, the general fund, had approximately $31.2 million in expenditures with about $32.3 million in revenue from taxes, charges for services and state and federal aid. 

The city's total fund balance now sits at about $14 million. Looking back over the last seven years, Wills noted the balance is on the rise from 2012, when the balance dropped from over $20 million to just under $12 million. 

"We're not even back to where we were yet so we're working our way up steadily," Wills said. "It's important to remember that a lot of damage can be done in one year."  

Wills said a decrease in debt and an increase in fund balances will help improve the city's credit score. 

"I heard a lot good news," Councilor Jimmy Giannettino said. "Thank you for the hard work and the vigilance." 

In other news 

• Wills also presented to the council the five-year projections for the city's three main power utility facilities: the Mill Street hydroelectric facility, the North Division Street hydroelectric facility and the cogeneration landfill gas to electric facility. 

Long-term estimates suggest that the Mill Street project will break even in 2034 and the North Division Street project could see revenue as soon as 2018. Wills said the North Division Street facility has the potential to be a huge money maker for the city. 

The city will be paying off debt associated with the failed cogen facility — which was "mothballed" in 2016 due to five years of operating losses — until 2038. 

"I applaud the city council for shutting this down last year," Wills said. 

• Director of Capital Projects Christina Selvek presented the city's 2018-2022 Capital Improvement Program plan to the council. 

Over the next five years, Selvek said the city will need $40.8 million for capital projects, which include funds for public safety, transportation and municipal utilities. 

During the 2018 fiscal year, the city plans to purchase two new fire trucks for $1.8 million, as well as four new trucks and one forklift for the Department of Public Works. 

The city's total capital projects budget for the 2018 fiscal year is projected to be $7.4 million. 

Council will vote to approve the plan during the Nov. 2 city council meeting. 

Helping families get ready for winter

Batman facing write-in challenge for Cayuga County Legislature District 7 seat


Cayuga County Legislature Chairman Keith Batman is seeking re-election on November's ballot unopposed, but Republican Bobby Massarini hopes to steal the District 7 seat through a write-in campaign.

Massarini came late to the campaign scene, missing the Cayuga County Board of Elections' summer deadline for filing petitions. Batman filed his petitions on time, and thus is the only name to appear on the ballot for the seat.

But with a Republican majority in District 7, which includes the towns of Springport, Scipio and Ledyard, Massarini said the numbers are there to win if people will write in his name. 

Massarini, who is the owner of the Lost Kingdom Brewery and Fire House Distillery in Ovid, is no stranger to the political scene. He was a candidate for the 54th Senate District seat in 2016, seeking the Republican nomination. Though he was unsuccessful, he is taking that experience to his write-in campaign.

"It was a great experience," he said about his run for senate, "especially the fact that I got to listen to a lot of peoples' concerns."

He said he decided to run against Batman after he was approached by farmers, local law enforcement and party leaders. He claims that Batman "is not a fan of the local farmers," and believes that is apparent when examining the water quality concerns and how the county has reacted around Owasco Lake.

Having seen one of Massarini's mail fliers advocating for better water quality, among other things, Batman said the messaging included all the things he stands for.

"I swear, I looked at that and I said, 'Well, I guess he's (Massarini) going to vote for me, because the positions he said are so important, are all things that I've not just been concerned about, but I have done," Batman said.

Batman pointed to how the county has made significant advances getting rid of hydrilla, an invasive species in Cayuga Lake. He's also worked closely with the city of Auburn, town of Owasco, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Cayuga County Health Department and others to address the harmful algal bloom toxins in Owasco Lake. As chairman, too, he pointed out, he's presented a balanced 2017 budget and plans to do the same for 2018. 

"I think that I absolutely run on my record," he added.

According to the state Board of Elections, there are 1,416 active Republicans in Springport, Scipio and Ledyard combined. There are 1,047 active Democrats. Batman is running on the Democrat, Working Families and Women's Equality Party lines.

Cayuga County Board of Elections Commissioner Katie Lacey said it's not important to get the exact name of a candidate on the ballot when choosing a write-in.

"As long as it's recognizable as what they intended it would be counted," she said. 

Write-ins can be tricky because they have to be hand counted, she added. That being said the board can usually tell if a campaign was significant because if a voter chooses to write someone in, the ballot goes into a different compartment of the voting machine and is tallied separately. 

"If it's going to be close enough that there's a question on the winner of the race, we'd do it (count the votes) as soon as possible," she said. "Usually, if there's an active write-in campaign, people know it so we're a little bit more prepared for it. If we just have a flood of votes for Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck, we don't spend a lot of time agonizing over the count."

Online producer and politics reporter Robert Harding contributed to this report.

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Newcomer and incumbent face off in Cayuga County Legislature District 13 forum

AUBURN — Candidates running for the Cayuga County Legislature District 13 seat squared off at a debate forum Thursday afternoon at Cayuga Community College.

Incumbent Legislator Tim Lattimore is seeking his third and final term on the body under the Republican, Conservative and Independent party lines, while newcomer and retired Auburn teacher Bob Nodzo is hoping to unseat him, running on the Democrat and Auburn First parties.

Lattimore, who has served in public office for decades, was asked whether he'd make another attempt at running for Auburn mayor in two years when the seat is up for re-election. Lattimore was mayor from 2004 to 2007 and as a county legislator two years ago, ran again for the city seat. Dancing around the question, Lattimore said he thinks it's good to campaign.

"I love this community, Auburn and Cayuga County," he said, finally. "I normally show up where I'm needed. I'll probably stay on the county."

Meanwhile Nodzo felt that his lack of political background would be an asset to the Legislature. He said he was ready to see "how the machine works."

"I come to this with my eyes open, my ears open, and ready to dig in," he said. "I'm ready to go to work."

Turning to specific issues, both candidates expressed interest in changing the structure of the Legislature, but offered different ways to approach it. Lattimore, who is frustrated with how current Legislature Chairman Keith Batman is running things, said he'd be interested in seeing a county executive. That would mean changing the county's charter. He pointed to Onondaga County's Executive Joanie Mahoney, and said she is able to get things done. 

Lattimore also suggested cutting down on the number of legislators. He said "15 people are very hard to deal with." Nodzo agreed, saying there are a lot of legislators and that he does not like the weighted voting system. He'd like everyone to have an equal vote.

Going into more detail on Batman's leadership, Nodzo said the District 7 legislator has done a good job as chairman and would consider him to continue holding the job. Batman is also seeking re-election this November, and has held the chairmanship for two years. 

"Keith (Batman) is a person who is open," Nodzo said. "He's welcomed both sides of the table in discussions."

Lattimore painted a very different picture. He said Batman does not discuss enough openly, and pointed to an agreement legislators had to sign forbidding disclosure of the reasons for former county administrator Suzanne Sinclair's departure. He added that he feels Batman has divided legislators more than united them. 

With constituents served by drinking water from Owasco Lake, Nodzo and Lattimore shared their insight on efforts keeping harmful algal bloom toxins at bay. 

While acknowledging work that has been done, Lattimore expressed frustration that the Owasco Flats Wetland Restoration and Riparian Buffers Initiative took about seven years to get permits. The project plans to collect sediment in basins near the Owasco Inlet, to keep plumes filled with nutrients from entering the lake. While Cayuga County works to update the lake's watershed rules and regulations, too, Lattimore said there needs to be more stringent rules around farm and industrial runoff.

Nodzo said the work around Owasco Lake is just beginning and more needs to be done besides the $2 million the state gave to Auburn and Owasco for water treatment plant upgrades. He said the county needs to do more problem solving when updating the rules and regulations.

"Everybody is involved with this," Nodzo said. 

Finally, the two candidates discussed the heroin epidemic. Nodzo said the crisis hit home for him when he found a young man breaking into his home to steal money. It was one of his former students. The man served time in jail. Later, Nodzo said he'd heard the young man's address called up on a police scanner one night, reporting that he had overdosed. Nodzo said the saddest thing about the experience was the former student had been very bright and was one of his favorites.

"I'm validated to do anything I can to make sure we do something about this problem," he said.

Lattimore agreed. He said with the number of overdose deaths increasing in his district, he's hopeful that his fellow legislators will also support a class action lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies that produce opioid drugs.

"I feel the pain of these parents," Lattimore said.

Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen 

Niklaus Hilton, 3, plays under a table while his mother, Melinda Liddle, looks for a winter coat Thursday at the Warm the Children program put on by the Cayuga-Seneca Community Action Agency, the Auburn Rotary Club and The Citizen. Hundreds of families in need came to the Hilton Garden Inn ballroom in Auburn to get coats, hats and mittens for their children for free.

Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen 

Bella Lafler naps while her mother, Shawn Meyer, looks for a winter coat.

Katko opposes GOP on budget

U.S. Rep. John Katko was one of 20 Republicans who opposed a budget resolution Thursday that congressional leaders are using to advance their tax reform plan.

The House of Representatives narrowly passed the resolution by a 216-212 vote. Seven New York Republicans were among the 20 GOP members who voted against the plan.

The purpose of the budget resolution is to begin negotiations on a tax reform plan. Republican leaders have released a framework of their tax plan which would reduce the number of income tax brackets from seven to three, lower the corporate tax rate and eliminate several deductions.

Supporters believe the plan will spur economic growth. Critics say it would raise taxes on the middle class while giving tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans.

Katko, R-Camillus, has long advocated for tax reform. He hasn't taken a position on the existing framework, but he reiterated Thursday that the tax code must be "simpler and more fair."

In a statement, he addressed his main concern with the resolution — that it would advance a plan to eliminate the state and local tax deduction. Residents in New York, New Jersey and other high-tax states utilize the tax break.

"As tax reform legislation is developed in the coming weeks, I am hopeful that steps will be taken to mitigate the impact that a modification or elimination of the state and local tax deduction could have," Katko said.

He added that there have been "constructive conversations" with House Republican leaders and the White House about the state and local tax deduction.

There have been reports that a compromise is in the works to address concerns raised by Katko and other New York members. New York's House GOP delegation have been pressured by some interest groups, such as the New York State Association of Counties, to oppose the elimination of the deduction.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said ending the state and local tax deduction would result in a tax increase for New Yorkers.

"The elimination of state and local tax deductibility is a death blow to New Yorkers and our economy," he said earlier this week.

New York Republicans are optimistic that an agreement can be reached to alter the existing plan to eliminate the deduction.

The outcome of those conversations will have a major impact on whether Katko — and other New York GOP members — support the final version of the party's tax reform proposal.

"While I could not support the measure before the House today, I am hopeful that we are able to find common ground as Congress moves forward to craft a tax reform bill, and I will continue to advocate for my constituents during this process," Katko said.

U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, announced that the tax reform legislation will be introduced Nov. 1. His committee will begin reviewing the measure Nov. 6.