Yates tables action on joining Seneca Lake Watershed group

Gwen Chamberlain

Yates County will not be joining an intermunicipal group proposed to protect the Seneca Lake watershed until some details about who will pay the bills are cleared up.

The legislature tabled a resolution that would have authorized Chairman Timothy Dennis to sign a memorandum of understanding to join the Seneca Lake Partners of Five Counties (SLAP-5).

SLAP-5 (Seneca Lake Area Partners in Five Counties) is a project of the Southern Tier Central Regional Planning and Development Board. Since 1996, SLAP-5 has been undertaking watershed planning. In 1999, a report,“Setting a Course for Seneca Lake: the state of the Seneca Lake Watershed” was created. Counties have implemented many of the report’s recommendations. The Finger Lakes Institute has updated that report, and recommends forming an inter-municipal organization of the five counties and 41 municipal governments within the watershed to carry out recommendations.

Yates County elected officials, like those in Ontario, Seneca, Schuyler, and Chemung Counties, say they are concerned about language in the memorandum that says the organization’s budget will be determined by the member counties’ annual dues.

Administrator Sarah Purdy said at least three of the other counties have the same concerns, and are reviewing options for the details.

The resolution will be considered again at next month’s meeting.

Other business on the April 14 agenda included:

• BRIDGE: The legislature awarded a contract to G. DeVincentis & Sons Construction to replace the bridge on Old East Lake Road over a Keuka Lake tributary. The company submitted the low bid of $539,000 for construction. Federal Aid will cover 80 percent of the project cost.

• POSITIONS: The legislature unanimously authorized Sheriff Ron Spike to fill a corrections officer position that is vacant due to a retirement.

During last week’s Public Safety Committee meeting, Legislators Elden Morrison and Mark Morris indicated an interest in challenging New York State Commission of Corrections on the requirement for 38 full time corrections officers in the jail. But Morris also pointed out the jail had 1320 hours of overtime in January.

Spike said two other counties have been told they must hire additional corrections officers to satisfy state requirements. He said he must advocate that the budget allow funding for the positions required by the state, otherwise, he, as sheriff, can be held personally liable.

The legislators also approved the creation of a new lieutenant deputy position and abolishing a sergeant position, and authorized filling the new lieutenant position and another lieutenant position that is vacant following the recent retirement of Lt. Todd Sotir.

Sheriff Ron Spike told the Public Safety Committee last week that the shifting of the positions will result in a savings of $10,000. One lieutenant will be in charge of patrols and the other, criminal investigation. Those positions will be filled through promotions, and ultimately, the sheriff will hire a new deputy sheriff.

• MEETING TIMES: The legislature set 6 p.m. meeting times for their May through October meetings so members of the public can more easily attend the meetings.

• RECORDING TAX: Legislators agreed to seek authority from the state legislature to renew a 0.25 percent increase in the county portion of the mortgage recording tax. Morris, chair of the Government Operations Committee, said the tax generates about $200,000 annually, which would otherwise be included in the property tax levy.

Other business at last week’s Public Safety Committee meeting included:

• SHARED SERVICES: Purdy will meet with Penn Yan Village officials to discuss whether a 2008 study of the sheriff’s department and village police department should be updated and considered. The company that conducted the original study has said an updated review would cost $25,000 for 185 hours of work. Purdy said the original study concluded the village could save $400,000 if the two departments consolidated.

• BURGLARY: Spike read a letter of thanks from a Penn Yan resident who had been the subject of burglary and car theft. An individual entered the resident’s home and took $80 from a wallet and car keys, then drove the vehicle to Rushville, where he was apprehended by a deputy. The subject, who had recently served a prison term for burglary and auto theft, was charged with felony burglary and possession of stolen property.

• DRUG RECOGNITION: Spike said he is hoping to get a Yates County officer into a training program to become a drug recognition expert. The officer will be able to assist Penn Yan Police and State Police.

• DCJS REPORT: Morris pointed out that he was not satisfied with the report on the sheriff’s department staffing from the Department of Criminal Justice Services. He stressed that he is not critical of Spike or the Sheriff’s Department, but he’s not happy that state departments are not benchmarking against other counties or states. “I expected to see a lot more from a group from the Empire State,” he said, adding that he thinks the legislature should have people from within Yates County who have public safety background review the data.

• PROBATION: Director Sharon Dawes reported that her department is struggling with an increased number of cases. She said she typically handles about five cases each year, and at this point, she’s on her sixth case.