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Auburn City Council approves lease of city-owned athletic fields to CCC

AUBURN — During Thursday's Auburn City Council meeting, council members unanimously approved two agreements between the city and Cayuga Community College that allow the college to lease the fields at Falcon and Casey parks for its baseball and softball teams. 

The agreement states the college will lease both fields from the city for two years. The college will pay $7,000 a year for each field, with the option to renew each two-year lease up to five times. The lease for Casey Park will begin on March 1, 2018 and the Falcon Park lease will begin on March 1, 2019.

The college does not currently have a men's baseball team. During last Thursday's council meeting, Cayuga Community College President Brian Durant said the college plans to form a team in time for the 2019 baseball season. 

The college's use of the fields will not interfere with either the Auburn Doubledays' schedule or the city's recreational summer softball leagues. In order to prevent conflicts with the Auburn High School baseball team, which also utilizes Falcon Park, college and high school officials will be required to meet before each season to coordinate game schedules. 

The city will provide standard maintenance to the fields during the college's use, according to the agreements. 

"I feel this is going to be a great partnership," Mayor Michael Quill said. 

Councilor Jimmy Giannettino, who voiced his approval for the partnership at a previous council meeting, asked city staff to investigate if the agreements qualify for New York's Shared Services Initiative, which helps municipalities reduce costs and cut property taxes.

City Manager Jeff Dygert said he would look into it.

In other news 

• The city should have enough money left over from the 2016-2017 fiscal year to make a final lump sum repayment in the amount of $240,000 toward amortized police and firefighter pensions.

Back in 2014 and 2015, the city decided to defer its annual pension payments in order to close a multi-million-dollar budget deficit. The city has since paid off the money borrowed in 2014 and is still working to repay the money amortized in 2015. 

City Comptroller Laura Wills said making a lump sum payment now will save the city approximately $27,000 in interest and reduce annual payments by about $32,000.

"Based on the intent of council at the time that the amortization was made, the intent was if we had surpluses to repay it," Wills said. 

The city still has a balance against money borrowed from the Employees' Retirement System, which provides pensions for non-public safety employees.

All council members approved the repayment. 

"It wasn't a popular decision at the time but now our finances are in order and we're paying back (the money)," said Councilor Terry Cuddy, who was a council member when the city decided to borrow from the pension funds.

"It's great to be in this position," Quill added, thanking Wills and city staff for their hard work.  

The city will know for sure if the budget surplus is enough to cover the repayments following an annual audit, which will start Monday and take about two weeks to complete, Dygert said. 

• A new member will join the city's Civil Service Commission. 

The council voted unanimously to appoint Auburn resident Tricia Kerr to the commission. Kerr will replace former commission member Diane Grove, who stepped down from her position in July.

Tricia Kerr

According to her resume, Kerr has a bachelor's degree in environmental policy and management from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. She has also completed some graduate coursework at both SUNY ESF and Cornell University. 

Kerr is currently the marketing and development director at the Cayuga/Seneca Community Action Agency. Prior to starting that position in 2012, she worked in the city's Office of Planning and Economic Development and also for Cayuga and Onondaga counties. Kerr has experience with grant writing and administration, having secured more than $35 million dollars for over 75 projects in Cayuga and Onondaga counties through her various jobs, according to her resume. 

"She's going to be a great asset to the commission" said Councilor Debby McCormick, who worked with Kerr during her time with the city. "I think it's great that she's willing to do it too." 

Kerr's appointment is effective immediately. Her term will run through May 31, 2018. 

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Farmers consider updates to Owasco Lake watershed rules and regulations

OWASCO — Some of the most blamed members of the community for water quality problems in Owasco Lake came together Thursday night to discuss the watershed's rules and regulations. 

Meeting at the Ward W. O'Hara Agricultural Museum, 10 farmers considered public comments submitted on the document that hasn't been updated since 1984. Only a couple knew the rules existed prior to Cayuga County and the Owasco Lake Watershed Management Council's recent effort to update them. But many, especially large dairy farms, are under so many regulations with the state already that they expressed exasperation at what else they could do to convince the public they work to protect the water.

"We're at a Catch-22 with the public, as I see it," said Jim Greenfield, a crop farmer with land both in the Owasco and Skaneateles lake watersheds.

All seemed to agree, however, that some terms and practices in the rules were outdated. Some considered, too, that things could be gleaned from Skaneateles Lake's watershed rules and regulations.

Dirk Young, a dairy farmer with land in both the Skaneateles and Owasco lake watersheds, and Greenfield, gave the stakeholder group an overview of how both rules and regulations effect their farming practices. 

For one thing, farmers can be exempt from Skaneateles' rules if they create what's called a whole farm plan. The advantage, Young and Greenfield said, is a planner can take into consideration the specific topography, soil and other aspects of a farm because one set of rules may not make sense for all situations.

That plan can be made for all farms from large, concentrated animal feeding operations to crop farms, and it covers everything from their nutrient management to the amount of fuel the business uses. But with so few farms in the Skaneateles Lake watershed, and a significantly smaller watershed to boot (less than half the size of Owasco's), the city of Syracuse through taxpayer funds and grants pays for those plans and their implementation.

With significantly more farms around Owasco Lake, farmers estimated that plans and implementation could wrack up "lots of zeroes" for Cayuga County. It wouldn't be too bad for concentrated animal feeding operations, Young said, because a lot of what those farms already do what would be included. But it could be a significant financial burden for smaller farms and crop farms to pay for the plans and practices they may prescribe. 

Another aspect of Skaneateles's rules the group seemed to like was how it references other sets of regulations farmers already work under. It keeps the rules and regulations consistent and timely, too, by relying on another agency's regulations to be kept up to date.

Greenfield warned the group, however, that "you can't compare apples to oranges."

"Skaneateles has got one of the smallest, I think the smallest runoff in the lake and Owasco's got the biggest," he said. "Just because you adopted the Skaneatels rules and regulations doesn't mean it's going to come out Skaneateles water."

Jim Sierzenga, a crop farmer and another member of the steering committee, said there are other things to consider including how Skaneateles Lake has no municipal sewage discharge. Erosion from stream banks and ditches, especially after heavy rains, hasn't helped either in Owasco Lake, he added.

Other stakeholder groups will be meeting in the coming months including elected officials, highway departments and contractors, lake residents and advocacy groups. The farming stakeholder group agreed to meet again, too, but a date and time has yet to be determined.

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Documentary on fighting addiction stigma screened in Auburn

AUBURN — A documentary on New York state's initiative to combat addiction and the stigma surrounding it was shown to a crowd in Auburn Thursday night.

"Reversing the Stigma," a documentary produced by the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, screened at Auburn Public Theater.

The film focuses on substance addiction in New York and the stigma of addiction and the shame users feel that may prevent them from going into recovery. The state's efforts to help people take the jump into recovery and continue the process were also spotlighted.

Laurie Dhue, a journalist who had been on networks like Fox News and CNN, narrates the hour-long film. She said she battled addiction to cocaine and alcohol for years and that there were days where she couldn't stand up straight. 

The film emphasized that addiction is a disease and is not a sign of one's decayed morals or a mere consequence of bad life choices. After the film, people in the recovery field talked about what can be done to aid recovery or encourage addiction prevention.

Allie MacPherson, program director of GRACE House — a part of the treatment center Unity House — and Joel Campagnola of the fundraiser Nick's Ride 4 Friends announced that Unity House and Nick's Ride will be working together to start a recovery center.

Auburn Police Chief Shawn Butler admitted that until he received more education on the subject, he had once viewed addiction as a choice rather than a disease. He said he is glad he can help serve as a source for changing that perception on a local level and to help enable recovery.

Campagnola — who said he has been in recovery for years — said it is important for people and entities to support those who are addicted and not isolate them further.

He said his son, Nick Campagnola, who died from an overdose in 2015, had been addicted for five years but was afraid of getting help due to the stigma he was worried his family would suffer. He said people who are addicted and in recovery are common in communities.

"We're everybody. We're all around you. I do a lot for the community, as much as I possibly can and yes, I'm in recovery and I am addicted. And I'm going to die an alcoholic and an addict but I won't die drunk and I won't die using. I hope I die naturally somehow," Joel Campagnola said to the crowd's demurred laughter.

Officials release latest toxin results for Skaneateles, Owasco Lake water

Toxins from harmful algal blooms are still showing up in water from Skaneateles Lake, according to the latest test results released Thursday from the state Department of Health. However, officials said the addition of chlorine is keeping toxins out of customers' tap water.

In a joint statement from the Onondaga County Health Department and the city of Syracuse's Department of Water, levels of microcystin, the toxin found in some harmful algal blooms, was detected at 0.25 micrograms per liter in the city of Syracuse's gatehouse located in the village of Skaneateles. That level was detected prior to chlorination, according to the statement.

That's still under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's 10-day health advisory guideline for vulnerable populations, which officials said makes the water safe to drink. All other locations that receive water from Skaneateles Lake had non-detect levels of toxins. In the meantime, local officials will continue to collect daily water samples until all samples consistently show no toxins.

Meanwhile, drinking water from Owasco Lake continues to remain free of toxins. The Cayuga County Health Department received test results late Thursday from its samples collected on Wednesday at the city of Auburn and town of Owasco's treatment plants. Kathleen Cuddy, director of the health department, said drinking water showed no detectable levels. It was not clear Thursday night if toxins were detected in the untreated water entering the plants.