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Owasco Lake Watershed Management Council hires first executive director

Following a hiring process that included 30 initial applicants and multiple rounds of interviews for finalists, the Owasco Lake Watershed Management Council announced Tuesday the hiring of its first executive director.

Starting March 4, Adam Effler, currently a senior project scientist at the Onondaga Environmental Institute, will begin his work helping the council protect water quality on Owasco Lake.

Effler was chosen after an intensive interview process that included meetings with various Owasco Lake stakeholder groups like the Owasco Watershed Lake Association, local farmers and more.

Both Owasco Town Supervisor Ed Wagner and county Legislator Aileen McNabb-Coleman, D-Sennett, the council's chair and vice chair, respectively, said the choice was a tough decision given the quality of candidates.

"It was a narrow decision and it was tough. We would have been happy with either one and we're really excited to have him on board," Wagner said. "Based on his experience and resume, I think that speaks for itself."

Some the first priorities for Effler, Wagner said, would be to work on identifying and applying for grant funding for projects from state-released harmful algal bloom action plans.

"I believe he's going to hit the ground running and I believe he's doing a lot of work upfront educating himself," McNabb-Coleman said. "His presence will be very effective in moving this council forward, preserving the health of the watershed."

In addition to a bachelor's degree in environmental science and a master's in water resources engineering, Effler earned a Ph.D. in environmental and aquatic science from SUNY-ESF in 2015.

Effler said much of his current work at the Onondaga Environmental Institute is similar to what his duties as executive director will be, including research, restoration, planning and education projects.

Prior to his current position, Effler also previously worked as a field technician, research scientist and project manager at the Upstate Freshwater Institute for 10 years.

According to a release from the council, Effler has experience working with federal, state and local laws governing water resources, familiarity with applied research methodologies, project and personnel management, and more.

"I believe watershed management is crucial for the protection of our water resources," Effler said.

Effler's salary will be $81,000 a year, Wagner said. Initially, his salary will be funded by the council's budget, which relies on user fees from the city of Auburn and town of Owasco water systems. The goal, however, is for the position to essentially pay for itself through successful grant funding applications.

Auburn committee trims DRI project list

AUBURN — The Auburn Local Planning Committee rolled up its sleeves Tuesday as it trimmed a preliminary list of downtown projects being considered for state funding.

The goal of Tuesday's meeting was to begin eliminating some of the 29 Downtown Revitalization Initiative proposals. Having met this goal, the LPC now estimates the total cost of all projects to fall between $13 million and $15 million. 

At earlier meetings, members of the LPC and the public were given stacks of "DRI bucks" that represented the program's actual funds. They then dropped the bucks into jars that represented the project proposals whose funding they supported.

The exercise's results found 11 highly supported project proposals that together amount to $7.8 million. The exercise also determined 11 moderately supported projects and seven projects that received limited or no support. 

However, any of the 29 proposals could still receive DRI funding.

Three additional project proposals, which were submitted through another open call round, include opening a Jamaican restaurant, building a retreat learning center and building a foundation for urban repair. 

Two of these projects — the learning center and the foundation for urban repair — would require a downtown boundary modification in order to be considered for DRI funding.  

Established by the LPC, the 162-acre district stretches from Genesee Street and Parker streets to the downtown area. Projects seeking DRI funding must be placed within the boundaries. 

These boundaries were modified once before to include the consideration of projects that sat directly adjacent to the region. 

Last July, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Auburn as the central New York recipient of DRI funding, giving Auburn a $10 million grant to work with. Currently, there are 150 businesses within DRI boundaries and 25 percent of the acreage is vacant. 

Inside the projects up for Auburn's $10M grant

Cuomo, NY lawmakers OK abortion rights bill

On the 46th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling, New York lawmakers passed legislation to update the state's abortion laws and increase access to reproductive health services.

The three bills adopted by legislators includes the Reproductive Health Act, a measure that decriminalizes abortion by removing it from the state's penal code, authorizes nurse practitioners, physician assistants and other licensed medical professionals to perform abortions and provides exceptions after 24 weeks for a woman to have an abortion if their health is at risk or if the fetus is no longer viable.

The state Assembly has repeatedly passed the Reproductive Health Act, but it didn't receive a vote in the state Senate when Republicans controlled the chamber. Now that Democrats hold the majority in the Senate, the passage of the abortion rights bill was a priority.

The state Senate passed the Reproductive Health Act by a 38-24 vote. The state Assembly followed and approved the measure by a 92-47 margin.

Soon after the Assembly's passage, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law as advocates cheered.

The signing ceremony capped off hours of debate, dueling press conferences and demonstrations in the state Capitol. Democrats argued that the Reproductive Health Act is necessary because a more conservative Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade, a 1973 decision that legalized abortion in the U.S.

But there were other concerns. Supporters of the bill said the state's abortion laws needed to be updated with a greater focus on women's health.

"Abortion is a medical procedure," said Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, a longtime sponsor of the bill. "It is not a crime."

Republicans, though, were united in their opposition to the bill. At a press conference hours before the Senate session, GOP senators called on their Democratic colleagues to consider a proposal that would make it a felony to assault a pregnant woman.

During the Senate debate, several senators claimed the Reproductive Health Act would eliminate protections for pregnant women who are victims of assault and other crimes, especially attacks that seek to cause harm to an unborn child.

Democratic state Sen. Liz Krueger, who sponsored the bill in her chamber, dismissed the claim by noting that there are already statutes in place to charge perpetrators in those cases.

There were other criticisms levied by Republicans. State Sen. Pam Helming, a Canandaigua Republican, called the bill "an extreme expansion of abortion rights."

"It does nothing to safeguard the rights of women who choose to bring their babies to term," she said during the Senate floor debate.

Despite the Republican opposition, the new Senate Democratic majority showed strong support for the abortion rights bill.

State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi recalled her time as an aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. While with the governor's office, she was assigned to work on moving the Reproductive Health Act.

On Tuesday, she was one of the Democrats who voted for the bill's passage.

"This is a pivotal moment for the women of New York, and it is long overdue," she said.

For Stewart-Cousins, it was another vote on legislation that didn't advance in past sessions. The Democratic-led state Senate has already passed election reform bills and legislation to prevent discrimination against transgender people. The measures were blocked by Senate Republicans when they held the majority.

Stewart-Cousins recalled sponsoring the Reproductive Health Act and being told in 2007 that it didn't need to be discussed. But with President Donald Trump declaring his support for overturning Roe v. Wade and members of his administration sharing the same view, she believes action needed to be taken to preserve women's reproductive rights.

"Today we are saying no. We're saying not here in New York," she said.

The state Legislature also passed the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act sponsored by state Sen. Julia Salazar. The bill will require health insurance companies to cover all contraceptive options approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Insurers would be required to cover contraceptive counseling and services.

A separate measure, the Boss Bill, also received final approval by state lawmakers. It will prevent employers from discriminating against their employees based on their reproductive health decisions.

Auburn Enlarged City school District looks at early 2019-2020 budget overview

AUBURN — The Auburn Enlarged City School District gave an early budget overview for the next year in the wake of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 2019-20 state budget proposal.

Lisa Green, the district's business manager, went over a presentation on the preliminary budget for the 2019-20 school year at a board of education meeting Tuesday night. The district stressed no decisions have been made and it is still extremely early in the process.

The district's tax cap given by the state is 2.25 percent. Green said the district is currently set to see a 1.2-percent foundation aid increase from the 2018-19 school year to the 2019-20 school year. Foundation aid is the base aid districts receive. District Superintendent Jeff Pirozzolo said the district has not yet set factors such as a tax levy and how much the district is going to use in reserves.

An additional 1.98-percent tax levy increase is set to be in effect for the duration of the district's $43.7 million capital project, which was approved by voters earlier this month

The district is set to receive a 2.21-percent bump in state aid under Cuomo's budget proposal, going from $41,535,651 to $42,455,278.

The district has long argued that it does not receive the aid it is due. Pirozzolo said the district spends around $17,500 per student, well below the state average of around $23,500 per student. After the meeting, Pirozzolo said he feels Auburn and the Port Byron Central School District did not receive enough in state aid. Port Byron's state aid is set to go up by 0.06-percent, or $8,123.

"We know that the state did not give us enough money again. We're still being underfunded. School districts around our own area got a bigger increase than Auburn and Port Byron," Pirozzolo said. "Two of the poorest districts in our county got the lowest increases, which makes absolutely no sense. Anybody in the governor's office should be able to look at that and say 'Something is not right.'"

A district budget workshop is set for 6 p.m. Jan. 29 at the Harriet Tubman Administration Building.