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Highlights of the August 2, 2022 meeting of the Tompkins County Legislature

Legislature Accepts County Resiliency and Recovery Plan

Commissioner of Planning and Sustainability Katie Borgella and Cynthia Bianco from Tetra Tech (project management consultant) presented the Tompkins County Resiliency and Recovery plan, which helps the County and municipal governments respond to disasters and prioritize recovery activities. Funding for the plan was provided by the New York State Department of State and FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.

Elements of the plan focus on mitigating disaster threats and recovery planning activities that businesses, organizations, and local governments can put in place before a disaster happens. The goal is to reduce the impact of any given disaster event, especially in the face of increasing disasters associated with climate change. An interactive “story map” and full plan can be found online at:

The plan was accepted unanimously by the Legislature in the consent agenda, 13-0 (Legislator Travis Brooks (D-Ithaca) was excused).

Safety of State Street / West MLK Street Corridor Discussed with City Officials

City of Ithaca Officials joined the meeting to discuss safety concerns on the West MLK Street corridor, on which several County buildings serving the public are located. Legislature Chairwoman Shawna Black (D-Ithaca) outlined the concerns of criminal activity in the area and while the County has taken some internal steps, there is more conversation needed with the city on how to stem violence and increase safety in the area. Acting Mayor Laura Lewis agreed that there is real concern both from residents and those who work and own businesses in the area. Lewis commented on a meeting with area residents that recently occurred to hear concerns and suggestions, as well as that ideas have arisen such as extending cameras down the street corridor to record footage of incidents and aid investigations, the possibility of license plate readers, more street lighting in the area, and to address issues occurring at and around the Southern Tier AIDS Program building. Mayor Lewis has appointed a special committee of Common Council members to further work on Reimagining Public Safety plans, as well as these recommendations.

Legislator Travis Brooks (D-Ithaca) remarked that there will not be one answer to address problems, and that people “have to be open minded and willing to try new things, not be territorial and work with one another.” Acting Chief of Police John Joly shared that it is difficult to staff proactive police patrols and that hopefully resources can be made available to use technology like cameras.

Legislator Brooks responded to speculation that the shortage of police officers is due to Reimagining Public Safety, sharing that the Reimagining process supports and is built off of the “experiences of people who look like me,” and that many of the issues with recruiting and retaining officers pre-date the Reimagining plans. Legislator Rich John (D-Ithaca) stated, “In its best inception, Reimagining Public Safety has nothing to do with disparaging police officers,” and that it is about building trust. John added that elected representatives could do more to publicly support police and the good work that they do, speaking about several life-saving efforts of local officers, “the critical impacts officers have on individual lives, we shouldn’t forget those.”

Following statements from officials on the public feeling unsafe, Legislator Veronica Pillar (D-Ithaca) asked who is fielding calls from people who feel unsafe walking in the West MLK Street corridor and for a report on specific things that individuals are experiencing and noticing. Acting Chief Joly responded that he didn’t have specific numbers, “but there is increased pedestrian traffic in the area at all hours which leads to other things.” He added that while calls don’t come in immediately, they will come in through chats and emails after the fact by witnesses.

Community Recovery Grant Program

Legislator Dan Klein (D-Danby) reported on the first Community Recovery Fund Committee meeting. The meeting included discussion on draft program guidelines, which will be adjusted following feedback from legislators and staff and brought back to the committee for consideration at its next meeting. It is anticipated that applications for the fund will be open this fall and awards will be granted at the beginning of 2023.

Klein’s comments included a history of the fund and its intent, as well as an invitation for the community to apply when it is open, “The legislature established the idea last year to distribute to the community some of the federal stimulus money we received. The money came from ARPA – the American Rescue Plan Act, and so we must follow the rules and reporting procedures of that piece of legislation. The total we set aside is approximately six and a half million dollars. The goals of the program include addressing the impacts of Covid 19, responding to diversity, equity, and inclusion needs, supporting local not-for-profits and small businesses, and addressing critical needs in local services such as childcare, job training, housing, and broadband internet.” Klein continued, “The minimum grant will be $10,000. Matching funds are not required but might strengthen an application. We welcome the organizations that are already watching this process and are good at getting grants. But we also want to invite in the organizations and small businesses who do not normally compete in the world of grants. We will be doing a lot of outreach for this purpose. We will keep the application and reporting process as easy as possible.”

Regarding future activities of the committee, Klein stated, “The committee will meet on the first Monday of the month at 10:30 for the next 6 months or so. The first Monday of September is Labor Day, so we are going to attempt to schedule a second committee meeting this month. At that meeting, we intend to approve the final guidelines, at which time the program will launch.”

Among Other Business

A proclamation was read recognizing and thanking Mary Opperman for her service to Cornell University and Tompkins County as she has announced her plans to leave Cornell University this summer. Opperman served as Vice President for Human Resources. The proclamation, read by Legislator Greg Mezey (D-Dryden) highlighted the contributions she has made throughout her career in the community.

In privilege of the floor for Legislators, Dan Klein (D-Danby) shared that in a recent TCAT board meeting, the board passed a resolution committing to studying fare-free local transit within the next year. Several residents have recently spoken at public comment regarding the proposal to make TCAT fare-free.

A resolution to authorize the deconstruction of a county-owned building at 412-414 North Tioga Street was considered but postponed to the October 6 meeting of the full Legislature via a motion by Legislator Dan Klein (D-Danby). Klein cited other potential uses for the building that could be further explored. Klein proposed that over the next two months, the Legislature publicize a request of interest to the public for short term uses for the building that would benefit the community. Legislator Amanda Champion (D-Ithaca) shared that the costs of any building renovations would likely make short term use infeasible. Legislator Anne Koreman (D-Ulysses) remarked on the building’s failing roof and its unsuitability for use in its current condition. Legislator Deborah Dawson spoke in opposition, “As for taking public comment on a building that would cost us a million dollars … I just see that it’s so difficult to get the public to express opinions on things that impact them much more directly. I can’t imagine, that except for a couple of people, we’re going to get a lot of enthused suggestions.” Legislator Randy Brown (R-Newfield) and Chairwoman Black (D-Ithaca) spoke about liability issues with the building if it were to be kept in current condition. Klein’s motion passed 8-5 (Legislator Brooks (D-Ithaca excused), Legislators Granison (D-Ithaca), John (D-Ithaca), Klein (D-Danby), Lane (D-Dryden), Mezey (D-Dryden), Sigler (R-Lansing), Pillar (D-Ithaca), and Shurtleff (R-Groton) in favor).

The Legislature unanimously authorized a public hearing regarding the Independent Redistricting Commission’s proposed new legislative districts. The hearing will occur on August 16 at 5:30pm before the Legislature meeting. A resolution was also passed (8-6, Legislators Champion (D-Ithaca), Dawson (D-Lansing), Mezey (D-Dryden), Pillar (D-Ithaca), Shurtleff (R-Groton) and Sigler (R-Lansing) in opposition) asking the Commission to look at having a smaller number of Legislators and an uneven number of Legislators so that there is no chance of a tie vote on important issues. Legislator Travis Brooks (D-Ithaca) asked about the divisions between proposed districts one and two with respect to low-income housing residents and representation be reexamined, which was worked into the resolution as an amendment. More information on local redistricting can be found at:

A resolution moved by Legislator Deborah Dawson (D-Lansing) and seconded by Legislator Amanda Champion (D-Ithaca) supporting state and local initiatives to protect and preserve women's rights to reproductive health and bodily autonomy, including access to abortion services passed 11-3 (Legislators Brown (R-Newfield), Shurtleff (R-Groton), and Sigler (R-Lansing) opposed). The resolution supports the State Legislature’s efforts to institute a constitutional amendment protecting abortion access, and resolves that Tompkins County Departments, officers, employees, and agents shall not abridge or interfere in any way with any person’s right to access legal surgical or medication abortion services in Tompkins County, nor shall they honor any request from an out-of-state individual, organization, or government agency for information that would identify any person who travels to Tompkins County to obtain such services.

Legislator Veronica Pillar (D-Ithaca) moved a resolution that would urge the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to investigate the closure of the college avenue Starbucks as an Illegal

anti-union tactic, the resolution passed 10-4, with Legislators Lane (D-Dryden), John (D-Ithaca), Shurtleff (R-Groton), Sigler (R-Lansing) opposed. Pillar detailed Starbucks’ activities including closing the Collegetown store and that the new resolution uses softer language than a previous version and specifically targets the NLRB.