District 5 candidates

The candidates for the Cayuga County Legislature District 5 seat participate in a televised forum Thursday at Cayuga Community College. The candidates, from left, are incumbent Legislator Paul Pinckney and challenger Melissa Jenkin. 

Robert Harding, The Citizen

AUBURN — The future of the Cayuga County Office Building was among the issues discussed at a televised forum Thursday featuring the candidates for the Cayuga County Legislature District 5 seat. 

Legislators have been considering options, including renovating the current building on Genesee Street in Auburn or constructing a new facility. Estimates indicate that the cost of renovation could be around $11 million. Erecting a new structure could cost more than $25 million. 

One possibility, if legislators decide to construct a new office building, is that it could be built on the county's campus on County House Road in Sennett. 

Legislator Paul Pinckney, who's running for re-election on the Republican and Conservative party lines, believes the county will ultimately decide to renovate its existing building instead of a constructing a new facility in Auburn or outside the city. 

"We'd love to change office sizes and revamp what our needs are, so we thought it would be most important to find out what the needs are and go from there," he said. 

Pinckney's opponent, Melissa Jenkin, who's running on the Democratic and Lake party lines, acknowledged that it's early in the discussions. The county Legislature hasn't decided which option it will pursue. 

But she noted that the top issue in the deliberations will be cost. She also thinks that residents should be engaged in the process. 

"I think we really need to involve the public, get ideas and views, bring that to the table and see what options really are available," she said. 

When asked if the office building should remain in downtown Auburn, both candidates were open to the possibility of moving it outside the city. 

Jenkin and Pinckney also shared their positions on sharing services. The state requested each county to submit shared services plans this year. Cayuga County opted to wait until 2018. 

One area that's usually the focus of consolidation discussions is the number of highway departments. The county has its own highway department and there are similar agencies at the town and village level. 

There are challenges to consolidating highways departments. Pinckney said it's territorial and officials leading those agencies typically don't want to give up their positions. It's also difficult to get an accurate figure on what the cost per mile of plowing and road mowing is in each municipality. 

"We feel it best to bring all the parties to the table again and have this thorough discussion and decide who needs help from the county and who doesn't need help," Pinckney said. 

Another popular target of consolidation is the various assessors at the local level. Each town has an assessor, but it could be consolidated into a countywide function. Tompkins County has a countywide assessment team. 

Jenkin described the difficulty of advancing any plan that would consolidate town assessors into one countywide agency. Municipalities want to remain independent, but she admitted that there would be benefits. 

"Each town knows their own communities and values," she said. 

The candidates also addressed a more political issue: Why their respective party is best to hold the majority of Cayuga County Legislature seats. Democrats currently hold the majority, but Republicans could regain control of the 15-member body with wins in this year's election. 

Pinckney said he and his fellow Republicans want to win back the majority. But he believes that no matter which party is in the majority, legislators need to work together. 

"There's 15 people and we need 15 or a large majority going in the right direction," he said. 

Jenkin thinks the county Legislature has been heading "in really a positive direction" since the Democrats won control in 2015. However, like Pinckney, she thinks the county is better served by members of both parties reaching consensus. 

"I think as the legislature is coming together, I think that's what's best more than anything else," she said. 

The race between Jenkin and Pinckney will be decided on Election Day — Tuesday, Nov. 7. The winner will represent District 5, which covers the towns of Aurelius and Fleming. 

Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.

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