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Highlights of the December 20, 2022 meeting of the Tompkins County Legislature

Legislature Approves $6 Million in Community Recovery Fund (CRF) Grants

Following intensive debate on some projects recommended for funding, the consideration of several amendments brought forth by Legislators, and lengthy public comment from Tompkins County residents advocating for certain projects, $6 million in funding awards was approved by a vote of 12-1 (Legislator Randy Brown (R-Newfield) opposed). A list of all organizations recommended for funding can be found on the Community Recovery Fund website.

Spurring the most debate was the proposed award of $510,000 to Second Wind Cottages to support individuals experiencing homelessness. The proposal would expand the organization’s existing Newfield site with the intent to construct 25 temporary campsite shelters connected to municipal water and electricity with a shared service facility for bathrooms, showers, and laundry. While the award would be contingent upon a negative declaration under the State Environmental Quality Review process, it was proposed for removal in a motion ultimately voted down. The resolution to remove funding was proposed by Legislator Randy Brown (R-Newfield) who cited the Newfield Town Board’s concerns with the expanded services in the area, as well as his insights after speaking to 43 residents of the Newfield area, most of whom were against the Second Wind expansion. Brown’s motion failed 5-8 with Legislators Brown (R-Newfield), Sigler (R-Lansing), Dawson (D-Lansing), Shurtleff (R-Groton), and Lane (D-Dryden) voting in favor.

On the topic of Second Wind, other Legislators including Legislator Dawson cited the Town’s concerns, with Legislator Sigler adding that he feels “it just doesn’t make sense” to have such housing located away from the City of Ithaca where there is a density of services. Legislator Greg Mezey (D-Ithaca) spoke about the problem of homelessness being one that is County-wide and that he feels it is the responsibility of the Legislature to take an incremental approach including this proposed project, “These are people, and an opportunity for people to have shelter and structure and some programming. Maybe taking a few people from Downtown Ithaca and moving them to Newfield … will be transformative for them.” Legislator Travis Brooks (D-Ithaca) stated, “We need housing in this community, period … there is room for this project … we have to put people in places that support them and help them on to a better life.” The project proposed by Second Wind Cottages will go through the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process before being brought back to the Legislature for final approval.  

Legislator Randy Brown (R-Newfield) moved to remove the $1,500,000 in funding for the Cayuga Medical Center Crisis Stabilization Center proposal, that according to their application would “provide 24/7 mental health and substance use crisis support and safe, effective, evidence-based care in a non-restrictive environment.” Brown cited the wealth of resources available to the hospital and his review of their balance sheet while there are many other deserving projects that applied for funding. The motion was ultimately voted down 1-12, with Legislator Brown being the sole vote to remove the funding. Legislator Brooks (D-Ithaca) asked about whether a lesser amount could be considered, to which others responded that the hospital wouldn’t be able to begin the project without the full amount, which Chairwoman Black cited as “the bare minimum” following her conversation with the hospital’s CEO. Legislator Rich John (D-Ithaca) spoke about how services that would be covered by a center like this have been high on the County’s list of priorities and interests in recent years, this being a chance to move something tangible forward.

Legislator Veronica Pillar (D-Ithaca) moved to postpone the vote on the awards until January following proposed further review of equity and access, program areas, and other considerations by the County or through its consultant. The motion failed by a vote of 3-10, with Legislators Pillar, Koreman (D-Ulysses) and Brown in favor. 

Among Other Business

Legislators past and present shared remarks on the retirement of Clerk of the Legislature Cathy Covert, who has served in the role since 1991. Covert will be succeeded by Katrina McCloy, who was named Clerk by a unanimous vote of the Legislature during its last meeting. A proclamation recognizing and thanking Covert for her service and retirement was read into the record. NYS Assemblywoman Anna Kelles presented a proclamation recognizing Covert’s 36 years of service. Kelles stated, “You are hands down one of the most kind, welcoming, professional, friendly human beings I have ever met.” Kelles went on to speak about Covert’s respect for the process of government and her impact on Legislators’ success The County’s resolution cited over 60 individual Legislators and 11 chairs of the Legislature during her tenure. Former Legislature Chair Leslyn McBean-Clairborne remarked about Cathy’s knowledge and her leadership in ensuring her staff will carry on her legacy of service.

Alana Congdon was appointed Republican Elections Commissioner for the Tompkins County Board of Elections by unanimous vote of the Legislature. Congdon previously served as the Deputy Clerk for Tompkins County.