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Katko asks Tillerson for help with Lake Ontario water levels

It was a chance encounter, but it may be the first step in revisiting a water management plan affecting communities along Lake Ontario in U.S. Rep. John Katko's district.

Before President Donald Trump's State of the Union address Tuesday night, Katko went to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's office in the Capitol for dinner. It was an informal gathering. The meal was served on paper plates in a cramped conference.

There were other members of Congress and Cabinet officials present. Not long after Katko arrived, he noticed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in the room.

After eating his dinner, Katko said he approached Tillerson and had a 20-minute conversation about Lake Ontario levels and Plan 2014, a controversial water management strategy. After flooding affected communities along the lake last year, Katko and other officials blamed Plan 2014 for the high water levels.

The International Joint Commission, which adopted Plan 2014 in December 2016, has rejected claims that the water levels outlined in the plan contributed to the flooding. There was record rainfall last year, which led to much higher water levels in the lake and St. Lawrence River.

Katko told Tillerson about the problems facing Lake Ontario communities and the floods that occurred last year. Tillerson, Katko said, mentioned a similar pact that affects the state of Washington.

"He understands, generally, the issue," Katko said in a phone interview Tuesday night. "He started writing down notes and I said, 'Don't worry. I already wrote all the notes for you on the back of my business card.' I gave it to him and he started laughing and he goes, 'We're going to look into this.'"

Tillerson would play a pivotal role in any attempt to amend or repeal Plan 2014. While the International Joint Commission adopted the plan, it was negotiated between the U.S. and Canadian governments. The State Department, which is led by Tillerson, could encourage their Canadian counterparts to reconsider the strategy.

It is a long shot. The International Joint Commission hasn't been open to revisiting the issue. But Katko and other upstate New York representatives remain hopeful. Before Trump took office last year, Katko and U.S. Rep. Chris Collins, a western New York Republican, sent him a letter urging his administration to reverse the Plan 2014 decision.

Another obstacle for Katko and others who support repealing Plan 2014 is the position at the State Department that would usually handle these issues has not been filled.

"That's why grabbing (Tillerson) and getting his ear for 20 minutes on such an important local issue was a big thing," Katko said. "I was glad to do that."

The Citizen file photos 

A privately owned dock is submerged in Fair Haven last June.

The Citizen file 

The parking lot at the concession and camp store at Fair Haven State Park was flooded in June.

Katko not injured after train carrying GOP members of Congress hits truck

U.S. Rep. John Katko was not injured after a charter Amtrak train transporting Republican members of Congress collided with a garbage truck in rural Virginia Wednesday.

The White House said a passenger in the garbage truck was killed in the collision. Another passenger was hurt. Amtrak said two passengers and two crew members on the train suffered minor injuries in the crash.

Katko, R-Camillus, posted a statement on Facebook confirming he was a passenger on the train and wasn't hurt.

"Appreciate all who have reached out and incredibly grateful for the first responders," he said. "Please join me in praying for those receiving medical care & their families."

At least two other upstate New York Republicans, U.S. Reps. Elise Stefanik and Claudia Tenney, said they were driving to the retreat and weren't on the train. U.S. Rep. Chris Collins, a Buffalo-area Republican, said he's in western New York and won't be attending the retreat.

The train was heading to West Virginia at the time of the crash. Republicans will hold a two-day retreat at the Greenbrier to discuss their 2018 legislative agenda.

The retreat will go on as planned. The members of Congress rode a train back to Charlottesville, Virginia. From there, they will be transported by bus to the Greenbrier in West Virginia.

Report: Cayuga County sees third-highest sales tax collection increase in state

Cayuga County on map of NY

While 2017 sales tax collection increased in counties across the state, Cayuga County experienced the third highest jump, according to a report released Monday by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. 

Sales tax revenue last year increased by 10.26 percent in Cayuga County over 2016, and brought in more than $37 million. It was one of only four counties to see an increase larger than 9 percent. Madison County had the highest increase at 12.21 percent.

In an email to The Citizen Wednesday the comptroller's office noted that Cayuga County had experienced a 1.1 percent decline in 2016.

Neighboring Seneca County saw a modest increase, too, in its sales tax collection at 8.41 percent. Onondaga County experienced a smaller increase at 2.34 percent.

Collections totaled $16.6 billion statewide, increasing by $620 million or 3.9 percent from last year, according to a press release. It's the highest local sales tax growth in four years. The Finger Lakes saw the strongest regional growth, increasing at 4.9 percent since 2016. Central New York was also a top performer.

The report suggests that the statewide increase was driven by growth in the fourth quarter. Increase in inflation, improved consumer confidence, wage growth and a low unemployment rate may have contributed to the increase, according to the report. 

Technical adjustments could explain the growth for smaller counties, the release said. The comptroller's office said because full sales tax return information is not available from all vendors during all months, some estimates are made based on prior years' returns. When the full information is available, there could be minor errors that need correcting, the office said in an email.

The comptroller's office did not think these adjustments made a significant impact on Cayuga County's growth last year. Local officials did not have an explanation for the growth, the comptroller's office added, other than that people may have been willing to spend more money on taxable goods.

Probable chickenpox case found at Cato-Meridian High School

A Cato-Meridian High School student was determined to have a probable case of chickenpox, the district has announced.

letter explaining the situation was posted Friday on the Cato-Meridian Central School District's website. The illness was not confirmed through laboratory analysis, but was diagnosed by the unnamed student's medical doctor. The letter, from district Superintendent Terry Ward and Cayuga County Health Department Public Health Director Kathleen Cuddy, said the student has had the chickenpox vaccine.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Ward said he heard about the case from Kathy Nodine, the high school's nurse, on the afternoon of Jan. 25. He praised Nodine, saying she suggested contacting the health department that same day. Ward said the student can return once they don't have chickenpox anymore and their chickenpox blisters have dried and crusted; as they can no longer spread the disease.

Cuddy said Nodine contacted people in the school community she was aware of who could experience severe effects from the disease if they were to contract it — such as those who are pregnant or have immunodeficiency. Cuddy said she isn't aware of other probable chickenpox cases in the county. She doesn't recall hearing about another case during her 17 years as a department employee.

Ward used the district's new emergency phone system on Friday to send a pre-recorded message telling parents about the case. There have been no new cases reported, he said. Over the past couple weeks, Ward said, the district has been "vigilant" during flu season, wiping down surfaces such as desktops, door knobs, keyboards and drinking fountains.

Ward thanked the health department for its cooperation.

Cuddy praised the cooperation among the department, the district, Nodine, the student's health care provider and family.

"Everybody was on board with doing all of the ideal actions," Cuddy said.

According to the district's letter, chickenpox can be transmitted through people touching the saliva, blisters and mucus of an infected person and through the air by sneezing and coughing. Touching a newly contaminated item, such as clothing, can spread it as well. Touching the blisters of someone with shingles can also cause chickenpox in someone who has not been vaccinated and has never had the disease.

Someone with chickenpox can spread it one to two days before getting the rash, until all of the person's blisters scab over, typically from five to seven days. It normally takes a person up to three weeks to develop chickenpox after being exposed to someone with it.

Initial symptoms can include a sudden slight fever and feeling weak, with an itchy blaster-like rah following afterward. Chickenpox blisters are more commonly found on body parts typically covered as opposed to exposed parts.

It is recommended that those who have never been vaccinated for chickenpox or were vaccinated once, consult their health care provider about additional appropriate vaccination.