AUBURN — Members of the Auburn City Council are divided about the future of the Owasco Lake Watershed Management Council and Inspection Program.
During their weekly meeting Thursday, Councilors Dia Carabajal, Terry Cuddy and Jimmy Giannettino said they want to make changes to an agreement that would give the management council full administrative control of the inspection program, while Councilor Debby McCormick and Mayor Michael Quill are comfortable with the agreement as is. The other parties involved — the management council, town of Owasco and Cayuga County — all approved the agreement last year.
Currently, the inspection program is overseen by the Cayuga County Soil and Water Conservation District, but the management council voted in August to assume authority of the program after becoming a nonprofit organization in January 2017. The management council, upon its creation in 2011, was designed to employ, direct and administer the inspection program, according to a presentation from Cayuga County Director of Planning and Development Steve Lynch. However, as a newly formed corporation, the management council was not prepared to house the inspection program, so its founding and voting members — Auburn, Owasco and Cayuga County — agreed the soil and water district would be in charge of the program until the management council was ready to assume responsibility.
Carabajal said she had concerns about the management council's structure. Although 63-percent of people who get their drinking water from Owasco Lake are from Auburn, the city, Owasco and the county all have equal representation on the management council. She said Auburn should have additional voting members on the management council, suggesting that the county representative be a legislator from within the city.
"Equal is not always equitable," Carabajal said. "That's really my concern."
"If we're going to give our authority over to this group, then we need to make sure that we're represented equitably," she added.
Lynch said he thinks the current structure is a "very, very good structure under which to conduct a strategic, coordinated watershed inspection program."
Cuddy also requested that the city have additional voting members because the city contributes significantly more money to the inspection program budget than Owasco does. For 2018, Auburn will pay $150,000 toward the program while Owasco will fund $17,000.
Quill disagreed that the city should have an additional vote.
"I don't see the value in stacking the deck," Quill said. "I think the representatives from Owasco and the county, as well as our representatives, are looking for everyone's best interests. I don't see what the benefit would be of us having another person."
Quill said if a new member is going to be added to the management council, he or she should come from one of the municipalities that purchases water from the city.
Cuddy also said he thinks it would be best for the city to have administrative control of the inspection program, like it did prior to 2007.
"I believe this (city) council wants to have a very active role in the future decisions of Owasco Lake," Cuddy said.
While it's great that this city council is invested in the health of the lake, Lynch said, not all previous councilors have played such an active role.
"We have watched as elections come and elections go and councils change," Lynch said.
Giannettino said he believes communication among all parties involved could be improved. He also supports the towns and villages within the watershed providing funding for the inspection program.
"It's important that we all collaborate, but that collaboration comes in many forms," he said. "It's not just about the water, it's about the watershed."
McCormick, who is the city's representative on the watershed management council, said she supports the management council assuming control of the inspection program. She also pointed out that the management council rarely votes on anything other than adding new municipalities as members.
"It's about getting out there and getting to know people and getting them to trust you," McCormick said. "It's not about who votes or how much you pay. It's about the water."
Ultimately, city council members requested that the management council consider their suggestions and ideas at their next meeting.