Legislature Approves Resolution Offering Emergency Wage Adjustments for Tompkins County Corrections Division
A resolution passed unanimously (14-0) increasing the starting hourly pay rate for Corrections Officers in the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office to $24.93 and offering new hires a $7,500 sign-on bonus, with a $10,000 sign-on bonus for lateral transfers. The resolution also makes it so current officers with less than five years in the position also receive the pay raise.
Tompkins County Sheriff Derek Osborne cited the difficulty recruiting new candidates and retaining qualified officers as the reasons for this emergency measure.
For more information on the new measures and application instructions, visit: https://tompkinscountyny.gov/news/media-release-corrections-officer-recruitment
Susan Currie Takes Oath as New District 3 Legislator
A resident of the South Hill neighborhood in the City of Ithaca, Susan Currie (D-Ithaca) won a special election to fill the District Three Legislature seat previously held by the late Henry Granison. Currie was joined at the meeting by friends and family including her wife, Chris McNamara. Currie is a librarian by trade, having previously served as the Director of the Tompkins County Public Library and as a librarian at Cornell University.
Currie remarked, “Thank you to everyone who voted, it was a cold day in January. Thank you to the poll workers and all of the Legislators who have been so kind… I hope to honor Henry Granison’s legacy of service.”
Tompkins County Clerk Maureen Reynolds was on hand to swear in Legislator Currie.
Chairwoman Black Shares Statement on Tyre Nichols
In her Chair’s report Legislature Chairwoman Shawna Black (D-Ithaca) stated, “It is deeply troubling that again in our country a young unarmed black man has senselessly died at the hands of police. In Memphis, Tyre Nichols, just 29 years old and posing no threat died after being beaten by officers and the failure to intervene by other first responders on the scene. History will not be kind to the politics and society that allows these horrors to continue.
Locally, I’m glad that we have policies on the use of force and duty to intervene, and in addition to policies we have nearly 20 plans to address inequities in public safety and policing. This should be a renewed call to get those plans into action.
If there were still questions about why traffic control and enforcement are a Reimagining Public Safety issue, tragically I think those are once again answered.
Systems need to change. Culture needs to change. Priorities need to change. We can’t become numb to these issues of power and violence. My heart breaks for Mr. Nichols and his family.”
Resolution Passes in Support of Evaluating the Feasibility of Renovating the Public Safety Building, Creating a Task Force
The resolution which passed 14-0 moves forward review of potential designs and estimated costs for the improvements of the public safety building, which houses the Tompkins County Jail.
Several members of the public spoke about the jail renovation project, asking it to be tabled citing a lack of updated data and other considerations that they would recommend regarding the facility and its cost. Speakers referenced the County’s success reducing the jail population over time, staying below 50 individuals on average. Commenters also cited previous studies and public scrutiny on the topic of jail expansion and community services to address recidivism. Commenters advocated that the County continue to seek out perspectives and lived experiences by formerly incarcerated individuals.
Legislator Rich John (D-Ithaca) cited the County’s low incarceration rate and spoke about how the jail is only one piece of the equation. John spoke about the court system, Sheriff’s priorities, staff, and community advocates that all contribute to reducing the number of individuals housed at the jail. John also clarified that the resolution is in favor of gathering more information with the building’s continuing deterioration while the decisions are made. John also spoke about why it may not be fortuitous to make the jail too small, and that the County has been committed to not boarding individuals out to other facilities around the State.
Legislator Travis Brooks (D-Ithaca) spoke about both his support for moving forward by passing the resolution while also encouraging additional community input. Brooks proposed an amendment that would create a task force with members of the Public Safety and Facilities and Infrastructure Committees, the Sheriff’s Office, and the community to evaluate the Public Safety Committee report on the current facility and inform the Facilities and Infrastructure Committee moving forward. The amendment passed unanimously, 14-0. The task force would include Legislators Brown, John, and Mike Lane (D-Dryden) who chairs the Facilities and Infrastructure Committee as well as the community and Sheriff’s Office representatives.
The Tompkins County jail population is currently at 58 individuals, with five individuals boarded out to other New York State jails.
Janie E. Bibbie Named 2023 Tompkins County Poet Laureate
Legislator Amanda Champion (D-Ithaca) announced that the Legislature has appointed Janie E. Bibbie as the County’s 11th Poet Laureate. Bibbie is a longtime County resident, and has authored twelve volumes of poetry. For more information on Bibbie’s appointment, read the announcement: https://tompkinscountyny.gov/news/janie-e-bibbie-named-tompkins-county-poet-laureate
Bibbie shared a reflection on her time as a poet and experiences writing, also reading a poem titled, “Flow.”
Among Other Business
On the topic of the County-owned 408 North Tioga Street property, Legislator Mike Lane (D-Dryden) who chairs the Facilities and Infrastructure Committee spoke about the Legislature’s decision-making process, stating “we looked at many different aspects and costs related to the property. We asked that the SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review) be amended to look at a range of things that could happen to that area of Tioga Street, anything from building a new office building there, or use for other things for our employees such as parking. No decision was made on any of that, we simply asked for the SEQR to be updated.” Lane continued, “We never talked about demolition of the building, we talked about deconstruction… meaning you protect and maintain the structural elements.” Lane stated that no action will be taken on this topic at the February Facilities and Infrastructure Committee meeting. Chairwoman Black encouraged interested parties to review the County’s 1/26/2023 and 2/3/2023 statements on the property and decision making on downtown facilities.
The Tompkins County Legislature recognized Brian Eden for his service to Tompkins County with a resolution. Chairwoman Black thanked Eden for his dedication, hard work, and commitment to Tompkins County. The resolution cites his time on Legislature Advisory Boards including the Environmental Management Council, Ethics Advisory Board, and the Climate and Sustainable Energy board. Eden’s achievements and advocacy in environmentalism were also cited. Eden said that he wanted to extend the attention to the nearly 50 advisory boards that the Legislature has, and that the hundreds of people on those boards help to make “democracy robust” behind the scenes. Eden also thanked County staff for their support of the boards.
In her Chair’s report, Chairwoman Black also spoke on the topic of the 2024 New York State Budget, remarking, “Before the budget is ultimately passed, I hope the State will reconsider the Governor's proposal to burden Counties with new Medicaid costs. The State has the choice to share Enhanced Federal Medical Assistance Program (eFMAP) funds with local governments – and should do so. Local governments need all the state support we can get. By adding new Medicaid costs to Counties’ already hefty lift – it moves us backwards and reduces the services we can provide for our constituents. The Governor’s budget includes several positive proposals, including investments in reducing barriers to housing development, addressing climate change and generating renewable energy, continued investments in childcare access, and a multi-year investment in mental health care. Each of these areas are of interest to our County, and I look forward to learning more as the budget is considered. In the meantime, I encourage Legislators to review the NYSAC publication on the budget and its impacts on Counties.” Regarding the eFMAP funding, Legislator Deborah Dawson (D-Lansing) shared that a resolution urging the Governor to change course on the proposal will be forthcoming.
Tompkins County Administrator Lisa Holmes shared additional potential impacts on the County from the proposed State budget, stating that the eFMAP funding issue would have an estimated $1 million impact on the County. Another concern is that the required rate increase for the Assigned Counsel Program is not included in the Governor’s budget, carrying a potential local impact of $1.2 million. Holmes also spoke about the potential expansion of continuous recruitment positions under Civil Service and that more fees may be retained locally through the County Clerk’s Office for Department of Motor Vehicles transactions.
A resolution passed (13-0, Legislator Lee Shurtleff abstaining) offering a small property tax exemption to qualified volunteer first responders. The exemption takes 10% off of the County’s taxable value on a property owned by a qualified volunteer. By an amendment brought forth by Legislator Greg Mezey (D-Dryden) the Legislature will also urge all local municipalities and school districts to adopt the measure. Legislator Lee Shurtleff (R-Groton) shared that by his calculation the cost to the County would be $20,000 for the current volunteer membership, with less than 600 current volunteers across the County. Shurtleff also cited that not all current volunteers are homeowners. Volunteers can seek more information and apply for the exemption with the Tompkins County Assessment Department, though if someone takes the State income tax credit for similar purposes it may outweigh the local exemption benefits.