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Auburn City Council approves sewer agreement between city, Owasco, Fleming, Sennett

AUBURN — Members of the Auburn City Council voted Thursday to approve a contract to provide city sewer services to the towns of Owasco, Fleming and Sennett. 

The agreement is the product of over a year of negotiations between the city and towns to adopt a fair wholesale sewer rate and a methodology to calculate the rate in the future. The contract sets the wholesale sewer rate at $2.78 per 100 cubic feet, which was agreed upon in January, following studies from two separate firms. 

"I know this has been a long, drawn-out process but I think we should acknowledge (city) staff for the work they have done on this," Councilor Jimmy Giannettino said during Thursday's meeting. "I think it also lays the groundwork for future agreements and working on mutual interests with the towns. I think it was an exercise in building trust and I want to thank staff for doing that."

In December 2015, Auburn officials proposed raising the wholesale sewer rate by 73 percent — from $2.49 per 100 cubic feet to $4.31 per 100 cubic feet. Town officials did not agree with this increase, so Raftelis Financial Consultants were hired to perform a cost of service study and establish a fair rate structure. The firm's study recommended setting the wholesale sewer rate at $3.98 per 100 cubic feet.

A second study was later conducted by GHD Engineering, which mapped out the city's sewer system to determine how much of the system is shared between Auburn and the towns. GHD's engineers calculated the rate to be $2.78 per 100 cubic feet, which is the current agreed upon rate. 

The contract runs retroactively from Jan. 1, 2017 to Dec. 31, 2019 and includes provisions for semi-annual meetings between the city and towns.  

"That's so important because we want to keep in communication and monitor flows and costs so we can keep that rate fair," Auburn Corporation Counsel Stacy DeForrest said of the meetings provision. "That's a key change."

The city and towns also agreed that the city will be responsible for installing and maintaining flow meters in the towns, but the cost will be shared equally between the parties. 

City Manager Jeff Dygert said the process was not easy, but acknowledged that the new rate is "a fair agreement for everyone involved."

Owasco, Sennett and Fleming town supervisors Ed Wagner, Peter Adams and Gary Searing, respectively, agreed that the outcome is fair for each of the towns, as well as the city.  

"It's a good agreement," Adams said during the Dec. 19 Sennett Town Board meeting. "I'm really solid on it."

Searing added, "I think it's fair for the towns and the city. It's a fair rate but it's unfortunate that as time goes on, the wastewater sewage charge will go up for the public year after year." 

Wagner praised the transparency involved in the process, noting "it's unusual you find that in today's climate." 

"You can tell when agreement is a good agreement when nobody is really happy, but I think its a fair contract — for the city and for the bulk users like the town of Owasco," Wagner said. 

Dickens Christmas gives Skaneateles economy holiday boost

SKANEATELES — The village of Skaneateles's streets were filled with people Sunday, some picking up last minute Christmas presents or walking their dogs while others enjoyed some caroling from the village's Dickens Christmas performers. 

Many Skaneateles small business owners agreed that the Christmas season is one of the busiest for the lakeside village and the annual Dickens Christmas celebration draws visitors from around the state, which in turn drives people into their shops. 

Merchants throughout the village sponsor Dickens Christmas festivities, which is organized by the Skaneateles Chamber of Commerce. 

"It's wonderful that the chamber does all they can to help the businesses in this town," said Ann Neibert, owner of Aristocats and Dogs Pet Boutique. "Business from Dickens helps us get through the winter. We all appreciate Dickens." 

Neibert, who has owned the small pet store with her husband David for almost 10 years, said the increased business at Christmastime helps small business owners get through the lull in tourism the village experiences during winter. 

Besides a providing a boost in business, Neibert said the Dickens Christmas celebration is just fun. She enjoys when the characters — dressed in Victorian clothes and sporting British accents — come into the shops and interact with her and the customers.

Neibert said Scrooge himself stopped by her store Sunday and wished her and her customers a Merry Christmas. 

Kay DiNardo, the owner of Vermont Green Mountain Specialty Co., said while business is steady for her coffee and chocolate shop throughout the year, it intensifies during the holiday season. 

"Dickens is a great draw, not only for me but the town in general," DiNardo said from behind the counter of her bustling shop. "Business has been great."

Geraldean Lantier, who owns the boutique Skaneateles 300, said December is always one of her shop's best months. She said during the week mostly locals are out and about shopping and on the weekends, "day trippers" make their way into the village for shopping, lunch and to see the Dickens characters. 

"They know its a destination," Lantier said. "Dickens draws people to the area. We know it does. It's a family tradition for so many people."

Gallery: Village of Skaneateles at Christmastime

Natalie Brophy / Natalie Brophy, The Citizen  

Characters from Dickens Christmas sing carols on the streets of Skaneateles Sunday. 

Auburn physical education teacher wins state award, reflects on career

As an Auburn school district teacher and coach, Shelly Connors tries to set aside what issues she's grappling with in her life and focuses on her students.

That said, Connors, physical education teacher for Auburn Junior High School and varsity tennis coach for Auburn High School, feels it's important to let students know they don't have to seem as if everything is going perfectly in their lives all the time. For the sake of setting that example, she does sometimes mention to students when she is having a bad day. The students understand, she said, because they've had rough days too.

"I think when we try to be something that we're not, it gives (students) a false image of what reality is really like," Connors said.

Dr. Tamela Ray, Auburn's director of athletics, health and physical education, said Connors is both professional and genuine, demonstrating to children that adults have bad days but can still adapt to situations and get through the day. Ray said Connors is dedicated, takes the initiative and tries to get to know students.

"She finds the thing that hooks (students) and gets them committed to fitness for life," Ray said.

Connors received a Secondary Physical Education Teacher of the Year award from the New York State New York State Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance in November. She said Ray presenting the award to her made it more special, as Connors said she modeled a lot of her approach to teaching after Ray.

Connors has been a physical education teacher for 21 years, and has spent 17 years with Auburn. She moved to the middle school this year after 16 years at the high school because the school had all male physical education teachers for the last few years, and she felt it was important for female students at that age to have a PE teacher they could go to and relate to.

She feels that for physical education it is important to emphasize teamwork in preparation for real life scenarios, and not just how well an individual does at something.

Connors helped develop Auburn's education adventure curriculum, which involves activities that emphasize learning skills students will need in their lives. For example, one activity can involve a variation where the group would pass around an object to distract the group. This allows students to deal with distractions just as people deal with unexpected distractions that get in the way, she said.

As Connors' life has gone on, she said, she has gotten better at realizing that not everything is going to go perfectly and that her life has involved a lot of trial and error.

"There's a reason I'm not a surgeon. I don't have to do everything right the first time," Connors said.

Earlier this school year, she said, there was a home tennis game in which the other team didn't show up on time, as the other team thought the game was at a different time. Ten years ago, she would have been distraught by that situation, she said, instead of taking it in stride.

Ray said the moment that emphasized Connors' ability to her was when Connors was doing a presentation in front of her peers at a state conference years ago. Connors was energetic and her peers were focused on what she was saying, Ray said.

"It really made me look and step back and say, 'Wow, I'm really glad she's she's at Auburn and working with our kids,'" Ray said.

What you should know about Cuomo's 2018 election reform agenda

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is once again calling for reforms to New York's electoral system, but there are some new additions to the agenda this year to address concerns about cybersecurity and entities funding political communications.

Cuomo, a Democrat, announced the proposals Thursday. The comprehensive agenda is part of his 2018 State of the State address, which he will deliver Jan. 3 in Albany.

Electoral reform

As he has in past years, Cuomo wants to allow early voting in New York. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 37 states and the District of Columbia have some form of early voting system. Supporters of early voting say it could help boost voter turnout in New York, which has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the country.

Cuomo's plan would require every county to open at least one polling location during the 12 days prior to Election Day. The polling site must be open at least eight hours on weekdays and five hours on weekends. There should be one early voting site for every 50,000 residents in the county.

Another proposal is automatic voter registration. For example, if you fill out a form at the Department of Motor Vehicles, your information will be relayed to the county Board of Elections and you will be automatically registered to vote. There will be an option if you do not wish to register to vote.

Cuomo is also pushing for same-day voter registration. The state doesn't allow voters to register on Election Day. Same-day voter registration is permitted in 13 states and the District of Columbia.

Election infrastructure improvements

With concerns about cybersecurity and the integrity of voting systems, Cuomo unveiled a four-point plan to bolster New York's election infrastructure.

A collection of agencies will form the Election Support Center to provide expertise and help develop cybersecurity regulations. The center will be tasked with relaying best practices to county boards and distributing threat information to local officials.

Cybersecurity is a concern for local and state election officials. Russian hackers targeted election software used by four counties, including Cayuga, in 2016. While there didn't appear to be a breach, it led to a greater focus on securing election systems.

Cuomo's other proposals to boost security include:

• Creating a cybersecurity toolkit that will provide county boards with access to log analysis, network monitoring, distributed denial of service defenses during elections and voter registration times and change-detection software to monitor voter database changes. The toolkit will be updated annually.

• Counties will be required to notify the state Board of Elections and the New York State Police if there is a data breach that could expose private voter or election data. The state Board of Elections will be required to release an annual election security report to the governor and state Legislature.

• To assist county election boards, the state Information Technology Services Office will provide vulnerability assessments to ensure the protection of voting machines. The state will also provide a free disaster recovery service.

"What we saw during the last election was a systematic effort to undermine and manipulate our very democracy," Cuomo said. "With these new safeguards, New York — in the strongest terms possible — will combat unscrupulous and shadowy threats to our electoral process, as well as break down fundamental barriers that for far too long have prevented New Yorkers from being heard and from exercising their right to vote."

Digital ad transparency

There is a push at the federal level to ensure greater disclosure of the entities paying for digital political advertisements. The legislative effort stems from the revelation that Russians funded political ads on social media platforms that were viewed by millions of Americans.

An estimated 126 million Americans viewed Facebook ads paid for by Russia during the 2016 election. On Twitter, there were 131,000 messages linked to more than 36,000 Russian accounts.

Cuomo's proposal is to amend the state's definition of political communication to include internet advertisements. Current law is limited to advertisements that appear in newspapers or on radio or television. Online ads aren't covered.

Under Cuomo's plan, digital election-related messages must include a disclosure of who paid for the ad. Anyone who doesn't abide by this requirement could be forced to pay a fine of up to $1,000.

Cuomo also wants to require digital platforms to create a public file of all political communications purchased by an individual or group related to state elections. The file would consist of a digital copy of the ad, a description of the audience targeted by the ad, the number of views generated, the dates and times of publication, the rates charged for the ad and the contact information of the purchaser.

Lastly, Cuomo wants to require online platforms to ensure foreign individuals and entities will not secretly fund ads that seek to influence New York elections. A person or entity seeking to buy digital ads would be required to register as an independent expenditure committee. Foreign entitles will be blocked from forming an independent committee.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, ranking member of the Senate Rules Committee and the sponsor of the Honest Ads Act, praised Cuomo for taking action at the state level to increase transparency in digital election ad campaigns.

"The federal government and states must work together to stop foreign influence and improve accountability in online political advertising," Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, said. "The American people deserve nothing less."