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Auburn police chief supports NY red flag law; Cayuga County sheriff has concerns

The heads of Cayuga County's top law enforcement agencies have differing views of the "red flag" law passed by the state Legislature this week. 

The red flag bill, if signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, would establish a method for asking a judge to issue a temporary risk protection order against someone if it's determined they are a risk to themselves or others.  

Under the proposal passed by state lawmakers Tuesday, family members, law enforcement and school administrators would be authorized to seek a temporary risk protection order. If the order is granted, the bill states it will "prohibit the respondent from purchasing, possessing or attempting to purchase or possess a firearm, rifle or shotgun while the order is in effect." 

If the individual already possesses any firearms, they must surrender the weapons to law enforcement. A court hearing will be held no later than six days after the temporary order is issued to determine whether a final extreme risk protection order is necessary. 

There has been a push for red flag laws after a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. Seventeen people were killed and 17 more were injured in a shooting at a high school. The gunman was a former student at the school. Police were warned about the shooter and his behavior years before the shooting. 

Auburn Police Chief Shawn Butler is among those who support New York's red flag legislation. He delivered a presentation to the city council last year and joined with Jimmy Giannettino, an Auburn city councilor, to advocate for the state bill. 

Butler's support of red flag legislation followed an incident in Auburn last year. A suicidal individual, an Auburn resident, called the Veterans Affairs' crisis hotline and threatened to harm themselves and police officers if they responded. 

Auburn police responded to the residence. Officers were able to take the individual into custody for a mental health evaluation and treatment. 

Butler on Thursday confirmed the resident legally owned firearms. 

"The two often are a terrible combination," he said, referring to guns and mental illness, "and we as law enforcement need additional tools to help prevent senseless acts of violence often perpetrated by those suffering from mental illness."

While Butler is supportive of the red flag law, Cayuga County Sheriff Brian Schenck has concerns with the bill. He believes an extreme risk protection order should only be issued after a "thorough investigation" by law enforcement, which would then make a recommendation to the court.

He agrees that law enforcement — a district's attorney office or police agency — could make the requests, but doesn't believe family members or school officials should be able to petition a court for an extreme risk protection order. 

"There are circumstances where such an order would be in the best interest of public safety; however, I am very concerned that this legislation has not been well thought out," he said. "There needs to be a thorough investigation to support the petition for such an order to protect the due process rights of the individual the order is issued against. This will not be the cause if just anyone can petition the court directly." 

Butler, who said he's a "firm believer" in an individual's right to bear arms, shares the view that due process rights must be preserved. 

Mandating probable cause requirements as part of the decision to seize guns, he wrote in an email to The Citizen, is important. 

"This will protect our citizens from arbitrary seizures if no imminent threat can be shown," he said. 

Despite Butler's advocacy for red flag legislation, there wasn't support for the proposal among the Auburn-area's state legislative delegation. Assemblyman Brian Manktelow opposed the proposal. The county's three state senators, Bob Antonacci, Pam Helming and Jim Seward, also voted against the bill. 

With the state Legislature's passage of the red flag measure, it now goes to Cuomo's desk for his review. The governor supports the red flag law and included it in his legislative agenda for the year. 

New food business coming to downtown Auburn

A downtown Auburn space that has been the site of several restaurants will soon welcome another — sort of.

Opening at 10 E. Genesee St. in late winter or early spring will be a food business that's one part restaurant, one part market. The yet-to-be-named business will be operated by Pure Catering and Events, which is owned by Luke Houghton, of Auburn. In business for eight years, the company caters weddings, corporate events and more in the central New York area, particularly Skaneateles, Houghton said Wednesday. A year ago, Pure also started a home meal replacement business, Provisions, which delivers fully prepared entrees, soups and salads from a menu that changes weekly.

Houghton, who also does private chef work, said the new restaurant will serve both prepared food and raw ingredients. Pure Catering and Events will also operate out of the space.

"The goal is to really be a place where, say, a home cook at any level can come in and grab what they need. It could be food they want to cook from start to finish, something we've cooked part of the way, or something we've cooked completely," Houghton said. "We're trying not to think of it as a traditional restaurant."

What's available will depend on what's in season, Houghton said. And because the restaurant will source fresh, local ingredients, its menu won't be easy to classify as one style or another, he added.

"It's an adaptation of my personality," he said. "I don't cook very complicated. I try to get good ingredients and prepare them simply."

Houghton is leasing the space from the building's owner, VG Rentals. His renovation, which he said is halfway done, includes making the space brighter with whites and other light colors. He's also opening up the floor so that there's enough room for retail space and as much seating as previous restaurants there had. The retail space will be movable for events, Houghton added.

The new business will open roughly six months after the closure of The Copper Pig BBQ & Taproom, which occupied the space for a little more than two years. It replaced HobNob Kitchen & Bar, which opened in the newly renovated building in late 2015. Before the renovation, the space was the site of restaurants like Daut's and Hofbrau.

Cayuga County saw higher home prices, less home sales in 2018

The median sales price for homes in Cayuga County has increased significantly. 

In 2017, Cayuga County's median house price tag was listed at $114,800. Just one year later, that number jumped to $128,000, according to a news release from the Greater Rochester Association of Realtors.

Overall, the median sales price for the greater Rochester area increased by 7.7 percent to $140,000. 

A limited amount of houses for sale is believed to be a contributing factor to price tag bumps. 

Nathan Krause, an associate broker with Land of Lakes Realty in Moravia, said he didn't see a whole lot of homes on the market in 2018, and to have multiple homebuyers competing for the same home was "far more common in 2018 than in past years." 

On average, sellers in the greater Rochester area received 95.8 percent of their original list price at sale, an improvement of 0.6 percent, the association of realtors said. 

Krause, who primarily works with properties in Cayuga County, said 2018's market was "absolutely" a seller's one, and that 2019 is starting to look the same way. 

"Demand has been consistent and a positive overall economy are signs of an active market, Greater Rochester Association of Realtors President Andy Kachaylo said in the release. "Home prices continued on an upward trajectory, adding another key factor for buyers and sellers to consider as we enter into the new year." 

A separate news release  from the National Association of Realtors from Jan. 22 said the country as a whole saw a decline in existing-home sales in December, mirroring a yearly 3.3 percent dip in Cayuga County. 

Despite the drop, Lawrence Yun, National Association of Realtors chief economist, said with lower mortgage rates compared to previous months, he expects a boost in home sales come springtime. 

Piper Perabo, activists: NY budget must include funds for early voting

Election reform advocates received help from actress and activist Piper Perabo to urge Gov. Andrew Cuomo to include funding for early voting in his state budget proposal. 

Perabo, who is best known for her roles in the movie "Coyote Ugly" and the TV series "Covert Affairs", hailed the passage of early voting and other election reforms. The state Legislature adopted seven voting reform bills, five of which were signed by Cuomo last week

One of the bills makes New York the 38th state to allow early voting. Under New York's early voting law, counties must have one polling location for every 50,000 voters. The polling sites will be open for nine days before Election Day. 

Early voting will commence this year, but there are questions about how it will be funded. When Cuomo released his executive budget proposal, it didn't include any funding for implementing early voting. 

The Cuomo administration defended this decision by explaining that the consolidation of the federal and state primary elections will save counties $25 million. But local government officials note that any savings won't be realized until 2020, the next year when federal and state primary elections are scheduled. 

A survey of upstate New York election commissioners found it will cost at least $22.75 million to implement early voting in 2019. Much of the funding — between $15 and $20 million — would cover capital improvements, such as electronic poll books, to help administer early voting. 

Unless the state budget includes funding to implement early voting, the burden will fall to the counties. Perabo, who lives in New York, hopes Cuomo will reconsider and add funding for early voting in his budget plan. 

"It's a huge victory, but we need the governor to put his money where his mouth is," she said on a conference call with reporters Thursday. "We can't have early voting in name only." 

Perabo was joined on the Let NY Vote coalition's conference call by Jenny Flanagan, who serves as Colorado's deputy secretary of state. Colorado adopted early voting in 1996. Along with other reforms, Flanagan believes the changes have paid off. 

More than 90 percent of eligible voters in Colorado are registered to vote, according to Flanagan. For the midterm election last year, 63 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in Colorado. It was the second-highest turnout rate in the nation. 

"We see this success in Colorado because we've invested in an election model that provides opportunities and options for voters when they need them," Flanagan said. 

Onondaga County Elections Commissioner Dustin Czarny, who participated on the call, highlighted the need for state funding to implement early voting. Many counties, he explained, have already adopted budgets for 2019. Since the counties didn't include funding for early voting in their budgets, state funding is needed. 

Czarny said state aid can help counties identify polling locations for early voting, pay inspectors and purchase electronic poll books. 

"The state and its leaders have a vested interest in making sure that this high-profile reform gets the proper funding so we can reach our full potential," Czarny said. 

One possible option for Cuomo is adding early voting funds when he releases his 30-day budget amendments next month. Last year, Cuomo used a 30-day amendment to add $7 million to his budget proposal. Advocates are hopeful the governor will do the same this year. 

Democrats in the state Legislature have said they support including funds in the budget for early voting. Cuomo and legislative leaders aim to have a budget agreement in place by the end of March.