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Cayuga County Legislature committee moves to formalize salary practice

AUBURN — A Cayuga County Legislature committee Tuesday moved to establish a formal policy out of an existing but unwritten practice regarding salaries for new county employees that was a frequent cause of confusion and contention.

The Legislature's Government Operations Committee passed a resolution allowing for county department heads to increase the starting salary of a new hire in a non-bargaining position up to 10 percent based on work experience, expertise, relevant education and market conditions. Any increases above 10 percent would need legislative approval.

Committee Chair Ryan Foley, D-Auburn, said the policy was intended to bring clarity to legislative hiring discussions that frequently became tangled with different interpretations of the informal practice.

"The point of this was so we all get on the same page," Foley said.

Department heads, under the informal practice, were allowed discretion on how much to raise the starting salary up to 10 percent, according to County Administrator J. Justin Woods.

Above that, the administrator would bring the request to the Legislature Chair for approval, although any request that did not have funding in the budget was still required to go to the Legislature.

Prior to an amendment to remove it, the resolution also contained language stating the policy would address benefits as well as salaries, and authorize the administrator to grant additional time off during new hire negotiations.

The resolution also originally stated that the administrator would have the authority to approve increases up to 15 percent, but anything over that amount or above 10 percent but which required budget adjustments still needed legislative approval. Woods said he had drafted the resolution with that wording based on the practice as it had been explained to him originally.

"For now, let's keep it simple," Foley said when introducing the amendment to remove that wording.

Woods said that both the 10-percent allowance and the way new county employees only accrue vacation time at the end of a full year were restrictive and a barrier to hiring, and something he said should be considered in an overall study of the county's compensation practices.

However, Legislator Timothy Lattimore, R-Auburn, citing a consultant's report projecting the county's population to decline to 66,000 by 2040, questioned whether the tax base could support competitive salaries without substantial economic development to revive it.

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A look at the 21 open-call projects being considered for Auburn's $10 million DRI plan

AUBURN — The Auburn Downtown Revitalization Initiative Local Planning Committee reviewed 21 open call project proposals at its last meeting in November, which some highlighted for further discussion while others were seen as unrealistic. 

As a recipient of a $10 million DRI grant, Auburn will use state funding to invest in projects aimed at transforming the downtown community. Because of limited funding, some projects will be chosen over others.

Project proposals must obey "study area" boundaries. In order to consider projects that fall outside of the downtown zone, the committee would have to modify the set boundaries.

In addition to project proposals submitted through the open-call process the committee ran earlier this fall, the committee is also considering projects that were included in the city's original 2018 DRI application with the state.

The next LPC meeting will be held at the Auburn Holiday Inn on Tuesday, Dec. 18 at 3:30 p.m. A public participation meeting will then follow at 6:30 p.m. 

Here's a breakdown of the open-call submissions:

Talking Movies 

A marketing plan to merge Theodore Case's legacy with the renovation of the Auburn Schine Theater with no preliminary cost estimate specified. The project sponsor is not the property owner. 

123-125 Genesee St. 

Exterior building renovations including a new roof and siding. The project is requesting the full estimated cost of $23,500 from DRI funding. 

39 Genesee St. 

Interior building renovations with facade improvements and parking lot repaving. The project is requesting the full estimated cost of $73,000 from DRI funding. 

41-55 Washington St. 

Redeveloping a former shoe factory site to create a mixed-use recreation center with fitness, cafe, retail and residential facilities. The project is requesting $750,000 of the total estimated cost of $4,005,000. A DRI boundary amendment would be required. 

Beeline Apartments

Interior and exterior renovations of a total of three apartment units. The project is requesting DRI to fund $705,140 out of the total estimated cost of  $805,140.

Cayuga Counseling Renovations

Interior renovations with facade and site improvements to improve efficiency, aesthetics, safety, security and sustainability. The project is requesting the full estimated cost of $1,318,660 to be funded by DRI. 

Good Vibes Neighborhood House

Establishment of a community center that supports the holistic healing and growth of youth and families. There is no specified project cost, and a location is undecided. 

Harriet Tubman Center for the Arts!

Provide a home for a dance theater, performance spaces, classrooms, an incubator for MWBE entrepreneurs, a teen inspiration program and residential space. The project has no decided location, and is requesting $1 million of the estimated total of $1.2 million to be funded by DRI. 

Museum Building Repair  

This project is requesting $1,056,000 out of estimated total of $1,151,900 to structurally repair the Seward House Museum's carriage house and barn. 

Museum Climate Regulation

Installing climate control systems in the Seward House Museum. The project is requesting $500,000 out of the estimated total of $775,000. 

Osborne Library

Restoring the interior and exterior of the building to create a self-sustaining museum and community resource center. Of the total estimated cost of $1,366,280, the project is requesting $399,000 from DRI. A DRI boundary amendment would be required. 

Tinker's Guild Expansion

Building an addition to include a new approximately 180-square-feet kitchen. The project is requesting $110,000 of the total estimated cost of $240,000 to be covered by DRI. A boundary amendment would be required. 

Veterans Health Services

Creating a 3,000 square-foot suite at the Health Central building dedicated to the health of veterans. The total estimated cost is $285,000, and $115,000 is being requested from DRI. A DRI boundary amendment would be required. 

Willard Chapel

Improving accessibility at Willard Chapel through interior restoration and site improvements. The project is requesting $750,000 out of the total estimated cost of $1.5 million from DRI. A boundary amendment would be requirement.

Women's Health Services 

Creating a 10,000 square-foot suite at Health Central dedicated to women's health. With a total estimated cost of $950,000, the project is requesting $385,000 from DRI. A boundary amendment would be required. 

Downtown Public Art

Designing and installing four murals and three sculptures to create an "Avenue of the Arts." This project requires the use of multiple public and private properties. Of the total estimated cost of $100,000, the project is requesting $90,000 from DRI. 

Genesee Street Mall

Creating a public square, renovating the parking garage and improving landscapes at city hall and South Street by closing Genesee Street. The project is requesting $164,800 of the total estimated cost of $285,000. The project sponsor is not the property owner. This project obligates the city to match funding. 

Light Up Auburn

Installing lighting to celebrate seasonal foliage changes in downtown public spaces. The project is estimated to cost $27,830 and $19,481 is being requested from DRI. The project sponsor is not the property owner. 

Play Space Public Art

Installing interactive sculptures and improving lighting to the the Play Space. The project is requesting $66,000 of the total estimated cost of $112,000.

Pollinator Path

Establishing a native meadow in the existing grass medians of Arterials East and West. The project is requesting the full estimated cost of $9,000 to be funded by DRI. The project sponsor is not the property owner and relies on city resources. 

Urban Forest

Replacing 61 trees downtown to improve the city's urban forest. The full estimated cost of $183,913.40 is being requested by DRI. The project sponsor does not own the property and relies on city resources for implementation. 

Natalie Brophy / Natalie Brophy, The Citizen  

The Osborne Library, located at 3 Fitch Ave., is in danger of being demolished if repairs are not made. 

Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen 

Emma Warchal, 2, walks the balance cushions at the Play Space in Auburn.

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Cayuga County tourism agency confirms new executive director

The Cayuga County Convention and Visitors Bureau has a new executive director, after the board Tuesday confirmed a replacement for Meg Vanek, who is retiring after 21 years with the agency.

The bureau's board of directors confirmed Karen Kuhl as the new executive director based on her experience with regional, national and international tourism, according to a release.

Kuhl previously worked as the director of tourism and hospitality operations for Selva Negra Ecolodge in Nicaragua and owned Tastefully Nicaragua, a gastronomy-based tour business.

Along with a food service management certificate from Cornell University, Kuhl has a bachelor's degree in accounting from Florida State University and a master's degree in tourism destination management from New York University.

"I am excited to start this new journey alongside talented and passionate tourism professionals and look forward to helping promote all the amazing places that Cayuga County has to offer," Kuhl said in a release.

Kuhl will start in her new position at the Cayuga County Office of Tourism on Dec. 10.

Community overwhelmingly approves Cato-Meridian school energy performance contract vote

Cato-Meridian Central School District voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved the state paying additional aid on an energy performance contract.

The proposal was if residents wanted an additional 10 percent in state aid toward the costs of $2.4 million in upgrades to various systems within the district's buildings within the energy contract.

The proposal passed by a 61-4 vote.

That extra 10 percent, or $240,000, is an incentive through the state for energy performance contracts, and the state is obligated to honor the vote. A vote was not required for the improvement themselves to go forward.

District Superintendent Terry Ward previously said the improvements will not raise taxes and the district will bond for the local share of the expenses, but the entire bond will be covered through savings in energy costs over the next 15 years. State aid was previously set to cover 78 percent of the cost, but the community vote for the 10 percent boost will raise that to 88 percent. 

The contract includes upgrades to insulation, lighting and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems in the district's elementary, middle and high schools. The district estimates it will realize about $144,000 in savings annually through the updates, and the state Education Department will monitor the savings. The upgrades will be executed by the Syracuse office of the John W. Danforth Co.

The improvements within the energy contract are separate from the $6.5 million capital improvement project the community approved last year. Certain improvements originally set for the capital project will now fall under the energy contract, freeing up $642,000 to be directed to security and safety upgrades in the buildings for the capital project. The capital project will now include window film, electronic classroom doors and electronic interior doors to hallways.

Ward said the capital project was approved by the state Education Department last month and the energy contract was submitted to the state Tuesday. The district hopes to get it approved by May 2019, and to start exterior work on the buildings under the capital project that month. The district hopes to have the interior work and the energy contract upgrades done from late June to late August.

Ward said he wasn't surprised by the outcome and thanked the voters.

"I think doing an (energy performance contract) and being able to do the security upgrades was something that was important to the community and it's important to us as well," he said.