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CEDA assessing impact of 14.3-percent Cayuga County budget cut

A last-minute change to the Cayuga County budget that deepened a cut in funds from the Cayuga Economic Development Agency is prompting the agency to reconsider its economic development plans for 2019.

Just prior to the Cayuga County Legislature's vote on Tuesday to approve the county's 2019 operating budget, Legislator Timothy Lattimore, R-Auburn, offered a motion to cut $25,000 from CEDA's operating budget. A divided Legislature approved the amendment.

Lattimore's reasoning for the cut that, when combined with an existing $25,000 cut in the preliminary budget, brought CEDA's budget down by 14.3 percent to $300,000, was that the county is lacking in grant writing capability, he said.

"I'm all for economic development. I think we're deficient in grant writing. There's plenty of money out there for water and sewer and economic development things (but) we haven't put the grants together in order to chase them," Lattimore said during the meeting Tuesday.

CEDA is a nonprofit economic development group that works to attract, retain or grow businesses in the Cayuga County area, and was created to serve as "one stop" for all the disparate economic development resources and groups in the area. 

The county has grant writing capabilities in various departments, county Administrator J. Justin Woods said in a phone interview Thursday. For example, the county's highway department recently received approximately $2.6 million in state funding after successfully applying for bridge repair grants. Other departments such as the sheriff's office, E-911 center, emergency management office and more frequently apply successfully for grants.

Woods' reasoning behind the first $25,000 cut in the tentative budget was based on CEDA's own fund balance.

"I wanted to encourage them to use some of that for operations and then look at strategic development of a plan to spend it down and then reevaluate that when we came back next year," Woods said during the Legislature meeting.

In an interview Thursday, CEDA Executive Director Tracy Verrier said that initial proposal had helped the agency think about the reserve funds strategically and about how to advance its mission through initiatives like programmatic investments for economic development.

Now, with an additional $25,000 cut to consider, those discussions have shifted slightly.

"It makes our conversation change to more talking about our operations as opposed to how to make strategic investments," Verrier said.

The agency is still considering new programs but in a different way. Some of the possible programmatic investments might have required new dedicated staff, but now broader staffing impacts have to be considered as well, Verrier said.

Multiple options to accommodate the cuts are still on the table, Verrier said, and the agency is not ready to make any choices yet.

Verrier said that CEDA had so far in 2018 worked with companies that received some form of incentive that are anticipated to result in over $20 million of private investment and 99 projected jobs in the county — a $4.8 million payroll increase — with an argument to be made for retention of 340 existing jobs.

"I would say that's a pretty good bang for your buck," Verrier said.

For prospective or existing business owners, CEDA currently offers services like financing, business plan review, help identifying and applying local and state incentives and more.

The proposal from Lattimore prompted disagreement from several other Legislators. Legislator Ryan Foley, D-Auburn, questioned why Lattimore wanted to cut CEDA's funding instead of using another source of funding, such as the county's fund balance, to pursue grant writing expenditures.

Foley, as well as Legislator Chris Petrus, R-Brutus, asked Lattimore if it was his intent to immediately fund the potential grant writing position with a new motion. While Lattimore did not introduce a motion to create the position Tuesday, he said it would be brought up at future Planning and Economic Development Committee meetings.

"I think we can do it in-house, a lot better and cheaper, to have our planning and economic development work on the grant writing," Lattimore said.

Legislator Keith Batman, D-Springport, said Lattimore's expressed support of economic development was "totally inconsistent" with his actual proposal.

"It seems to me there's a fundamental inconsistency to say that 'I'm in favor of economic development, but I want to cut the agency that we've charged with economic development,'" Batman said.

If the Legislature was unsatisfied with CEDA, Batman said, it should be the body's responsibility to decide what it is they want CEDA to do and come up with specific measures to "hold them to it."

CEDA relies on the state Department of Labor for countywide data about employment gains and losses, but the agency does require companies that receive an Industrial Development Agency incentive, like a sales tax exemption on construction materials, to report how many jobs are created.

CEDA also helps businesses work with the state-run Empire State Development Corp., which is responsible for its own monitoring of how many jobs are promised and how many are created, which CEDA follows up with, Verrier said.

"I want to make sure we're showing value to the Legislature and I just need to continue having those conversations about the return on investment and what they're looking to see," Verrier said. "We want to be good partners to the county and good partners to the Legislature."

The Legislature's next Planning and Economic Development Committee meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Dec. 5 at the Cayuga County Office Building.

GOP state Sen.-elect Antonacci open to public financing of NY elections

Now that Democrats control both houses of the state Legislature, they won't have any trouble passing a bill that establishes a statewide public campaign financing system.

While it's usually considered a progressive idea or a Democratic principle, it may receive support from at least one Republican lawmaker: Incoming state Sen. Bob Antonacci, who will succeed retiring state Sen. John DeFrancisco in January.

Antonacci's support of publicly funded elections isn't new. He embraced the concept in 2014 when he ran for state comptroller. There was a voluntary pilot program available for state comptroller candidates. The incumbent, Democratic Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, didn't enroll. But Antonacci signed up to receive matching funds for small donations.

Antonacci shared more about that experience during an interview with The Citizen Friday. He recalled the difficulty in qualifying for the public financing system. His campaign treasurer resigned when they saw the paperwork required for the program.

"If we're going to do it, we gotta make it so that people can legitimately qualify — that the record-keeping is easy to do," he said.

In prior interviews, Antonacci acknowledged that his stance puts him at odds with most Republicans. State Senate Republicans have largely opposed efforts to adopt a public campaign financing model. One of the main GOP criticisms of the proposal is that they don't want taxpayer funds used to support political candidates.

Antonacci has called himself "the unicorn of the Republican Party" because of his support for public campaign financing.

"I think it can be a fraud fighter," he said Friday. "You take the big money out of it. The devil's in the details, but yes, I'm certainly open-minded to it. Between term limits and taking big money out of politics, I'm more than happy to talk about those kind of initiatives."

With Democrats securing a majority of seats in the state Assembly and Senate, there have been various electoral and voting reform proposals floated since the election. A public campaign financing system may be modeled after a program in place for New York City elections, which will now provide an eight-to-one match on the first $250 for citywide candidates and the first $175 for borough president and city council candidates.

In New York City, the program mandates that the matched donations come from city residents.

Democrats in the state Legislature will likely advocate for an identical or similar bill beginning in January. Antonacci would be open to supporting such a bill, but he prefers a clean bill with no other provisions attached.

"One of the things that I don't want to see Albany do is have a massive bill that has 83 different things in it, some of them unrelated," he said. "I want to make sure that they're not trying to sneak anything else in there along with some of these election reforms that they're talking about."

Election and voting reforms are at the top of Democrats' to-do list when the legislative session begins in January. Aside from public financing of elections, they're also pushing for early voting, same-day and automatic voter registration, and consolidating the federal primary with the state and local primary election.

Antonacci hasn't warmed to those proposals unless there's a compromise that includes some GOP-friendly ideas, such as requiring voters to present identification at their polling location.

Absent a compromise, he believes public financing of elections, early voting and other ideas should be considered independently.

"I ran with it in 2014. I think it's something that's a potential tool in fighting fraud and eliminating pay-to-play," he said. "But like anything else we've got to see the details."

Development of programming plan for Emerson Park moving forward

OWASCO — Emerson Park's Deauville Island might one day host everything from yoga classes to large concerts, as a project to develop a plan for expanded programming on the island moves forward.

The Beiderman Redevelopment Ventures consultancy recently submitted cost estimates for the development of an integrated programming plan for Deauville Island, Cayuga County Park Maintenance Supervisor Doug DelloStritto said at a meeting of the Parks Commission Monday.

As part of the wider Emerson Park Master Plan, the programming plan will detail how to expand and enhance programming at Deauville Island, which itself is set to undergo major renovations next year.

According to DelloStritto, the "ground-up" plan would begin by considering a "catchment area" of where visitors could be estimated to come from, as well as population demographics within that area.

With that in mind, the plan would advise the Parks Department on what kind of programming Deauville Island could support, detailing, for example, what number of large concerts could be held in a year or where ongoing programming, like yoga classes, would be appropriate.

According to DelloStritto, the "nuts and bolts" plan would be comprehensive enough to specify minute details such as the headcount that could be expected at some events and what kind of infrastructure, like restrooms, would be needed to support said number.

County Legislator Aileen McNabb-Coleman, D-Sennett, who also sits on the Parks Commission and whose district includes the park, said more programming at the island, along with more public outreach would help visitors see what a resource they have in the park.

"Once you're up there, people are usually like 'Wow, why don't I come up here more often?' So it's just getting people up there also to help shape the message," McNabb-Coleman said.

In terms of wider, county-level goals, a vibrant park system serves as one of a number of quality-of-life resources that attracts or retains residents, Parks Commission member and Legislator Joseph DeForest, D-Venice, said.

"Growing the population of Cayuga County is tied in to the quality of life and if you've got vibrant parks and libraries and services and so forth that attracts people, that's my hope," DeForest said.

To pay for the the development of the plan, The Emerson Foundation pledged $212,000 after the Parks Department successfully applied for a grant for the project.

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Nearly 860,000 gallons of sewage discharged into Skaneateles Creek

Heavy rainfall and snow melt caused an estimated 858,000 gallons of partially treated sewage to discharge into Skaneateles Creek Sunday night over an 11-hour period, according to the NY-Alert system. 

Discharging the sewer overflow took place around 9 p.m. Sunday night. Sewer overflow includes discharge from sewer systems bringing stormwater runoff, domestic sewage and industrial wastewater into the treatment facility, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The rain and snow melt caused excessive wet weather flows in the collection system, which exceeded the capacity of the sewer system. Excess water was discharged into the Skaneateles Creek.

The discharge location was 3831 Fennell Street, the village of Skaneateles' Wastewater Treatment Plant, and the discharge was partially treated with disinfection. To contain the discharge, the village has investigations scheduled for the spring and sewer televising and slip lining to reduce inflow.

In accordance with a 2013 state law, all publicly-owned treatment works and sewer systems must report combined sewer overflows to the DEC within two hours of discovery and to the public and adjoining municipalities within four hours.

Public notification is provided through the NY-Alert system, which can send messages direct through phone, email or text. Visit online for instructions on how to sign up to receive alerts.

According to the DEC, sewer overflows can cause human and animal health hazards, water quality impacts, beach closures, algae growth, reduced oxygen levels in water and more.