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Highlights of the January 17, 2023 meeting of the Tompkins County Legislature, State of the County Address

Chairwoman Shawna Black Delivers State of the County Address

Full text included below:

I am honored to report that the State of Tompkins County is strong. This fact is exemplified by the upcoming County Administrator’s report on departmental achievements that you will hear in a few minutes.

We’re addressing our community’s most pressing challenges – mental health, homelessness, food insecurity, climate change, and housing  -  while maintaining efforts critical to our essential service delivery. We also continue to make strides even while recruiting new employees which has become even more challenging than ever.

Whereas last year we saw a record State budget with a prolific economy recovering from COVID-19, I recognize that going into the 2023 budget we have concerns about the global economy and where things will shake out with inflation’s rising prices that are impacting households and our organization.

These are critical discussions that must inform our decision making. I know this Legislature is at its best when we balance our concerns, tempered expectations, and new ideas as we plan our budget.

Historically, we have been very careful stewards of public funds, and my hope is we will continue to have a robust organization and healthy fund balance that can help us weather another storm, if needed.

We will soon receive the initial results of our, much anticipated, compensation study. This will give us benchmarks to ensure that we’re on the right track offering wages that are fair and attractive to employees and recruits.

Tompkins County is a great place to work, and we will have many considerations to make in the coming year related to how we compensate our colleagues. I continue to attribute the success of our county on the many people that work here. We strive to be an employer of choice and want our employees to feel valued.

This year will also see continued discussion on the physical infrastructure that makes our county successful. 2022 saw discussions around capital projects and building improvements. I expect the same will continue in 2023.

I want to also highlight the decisions made by this Legislature to kick off work on the green facilities plan in 2022, this is setting us up for a long-term sustainable future for all of our buildings and operations. We have been a leader in New York State and will continue to do so in the upcoming year.  

These are not only investments in our organization, but also for our community. We expect safe and effective spaces to deliver services, and the best and most driven employees to deliver such services. This year will see the first strategic operations plan developed, which is set to give us further direction on how to best meet our obligations and find new ways to serve the public and operate as an effective organization.

The core of what we do in Tompkins County is delivering services to the public.  Whether that be keeping over 300 miles of roads clear and in working condition or ensuring WIC or SNAP benefits are delivered to those in need. I believe the state of these services is strong, and 2022 showed a high level of output and resilience by our organization. When it comes to the services that we offer to the public, no one should feel left out or disregarded by Tompkins County.

In the coming year we must strive even further to ensure consistency and equity across the entirety of our County.

In 2022, Public and Mental Health completed their merger, with services now integrated in one Whole Health model. Our staff found new ways to better meet the needs of the public and adapt with best practices – this is an example of what we should be striving for across the organization.

A monumental achievement in 2022 was the Legislature’s final agreement on $6.5 million in grant funds through the Community Recovery Fund. The applications to this fund showed us gaps and opportunities across the County. 

It’s also clear that so many people and organizations are still trying to recover from the impacts of the pandemic. I believe the $6.5 million in investments will truly be transformative, but we’ve also heard loud and clear that certain areas continue to need funding and our constituents are quick to remind us that they feel the County should be doing more. We will continue to seek out other ways to meet these needs and find opportunities for organizations in our community.

In 2022 we made investments in the areas of Reimagining Public Safety, housing and homelessness, and addressing the EMS crisis in our County. It’s time for us to move past conversations on these topics and into action. Bringing on and empowering staff to coordinate in these issue areas will be critical for us – I look forward to gaining expertise and making progress this year.

These issues require us to think critically about equity in service delivery, and how we can make lasting change – as these are not new issues, just newly explored in depth by this Legislature. We have a responsibility to choose approaches and make investments that are sustainable for the long term.

In closing, as we look back at 2022 and move forward into 2023, it is clear that effective partnerships and a shared vision for success are more important than ever. Whether it be supporting our transportation services, improving housing outcomes, improving economic development, or addressing the opioid crisis, we and our partners share the responsibility for the work.

In Tompkins County we are successful because we hold values that reflect our community.

2022 was the first year with our newly minted Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion statement, which proudly hangs in all County buildings including the Legislature Chambers. I believe it is a commitment that gives us strength in what we do, and I look forward to another year of living by our values.

We have many challenges before us, we are in a unique time to build upon our strengths and what we’ve learned over the past few years. This group of 13, soon to be 14 legislators – will be tasked with many big decisions in the upcoming year.  

It seems more people than ever are looking to us to address our community’s challenges. The question that will define next year’s State of the County is how we rise to that challenge.

Discussion on Impending Cleanup of City Encampment Site

City of Ithaca Alderperson George McGonigal spoke during privilege of the floor for elected officials on the topic of cleaning up encampment sites along the inlet near Cecil B. Malone Drive and that while one area is being cleaned, there are many acres more that aren’t designated to be cleaned. McGonigal cited the lack of snow on the ground as a unique opportunity for the City crews to complete the cleanup work. McGonigal asked that the County help to pay for the disposal of metal and tires at the Recycling and Materials Management Department’s Solid Waste Facility.

Legislator Deborah Dawson (D-Lansing) inquired about the hazardous and drug-related waste at the property and how those would be handled, Director of the Recycling and Materials Management Department Barb Eckstrom detailed that the State DEC regulates what can be accepted by the facility. Eckstrom added that hazardous materials cannot be deposited at the facility, though the City has assured her that the materials would be handled. Eckstrom also added that there is a process that would allow the County to waive a fee estimated to be around $96 per ton of solid waste.

Chairwoman Black (D-Ithaca) asked about whether the City had plans to ensure the routine cleanup of the area. McGonigal responded that there is no plan in place, though “I can assure you that for this one area of the ‘jungle’ we are going to make every effort to keep it cleaned up, period,” adding that there are ongoing activities toward establishing a sanctioned encampment further south along the inlet.

Among Other Business

Chairwoman Shawna Black (D-Ithaca) announced committee assignments, effective February 1, 2023. There will be a new committee, with Housing and Economic Development being a significant focus area for the County in 2023. 

  • Health and Human Services – Dan Klein (Chair), Travis Brooks (Vice Chair), Randy Brown, Amanda Champion, Incoming District 3 Representative
  • Housing and Economic Development – Greg Mezey (Chair), Travis Brooks (Vice Chair), Anne Koreman, Mike Sigler, Veronica Pillar
  • Planning, Energy, and Environmental Quality – Anne Koreman (Chair), Veronica Pillar (Vice Chair), Greg Mezey, Randy Brown, Incoming District 3 Representative
  • Public Safety – Rich John (Chair), Lee Shurtleff (Vice Chair), Veronica Pillar, Mike Sigler, Anne Koreman
  • Workforce Diversity and Inclusion Special Committee – Veronica Pillar (Chair), Anne Koreman
  • Community Recovery Fund Special Committee – Dan Klein (Chair), Deborah Dawson (Vice Chair), Veronica Pillar, Travis Brooks, Randy Brown, Mike Sigler, Incoming District 3 Representative
  • Budget, Capital, and Personnel – Deborah Dawson (Chair), Lee Shurtleff (Vice Chair), Rich John, Mike Lane, Amanda Champion
  • Facilities and Infrastructure – Mike Lane (Chair), Randy Brown (Vice Chair), Lee Shurtleff, Deborah Dawson, Greg Mezey
  • Government Operations – Amanda Champion (Chair), Incoming District 3 Representative (Vice Chair), Dan Klein, Mike Lane, Rich John

Tompkins County Chief Sustainability Officer Terry Carroll gave an update on the Waterloo, New York Hydro Power Facility and energy procurement at the County. Carroll detailed the complexity of procuring energy for the County organization, and the progress being made on utilizing renewable energy sources.

Tompkins County Administrator Lisa Holmes announced the appointment of Norma Jayne as a new Deputy County Administrator following a search process. Jayne has served as the County’s Budget Director since 2022.

Administrator Holmes presented a roundup of 2022 achievements from all County departments. For more information on the departmental achievements, view the press release on the County’s website.

By a unanimous vote of 12-0 (Legislator Rich John (D-Ithaca) excused) the Legislature approved the promotion of Brittni Griep to the role of Chief Deputy Clerk of the Legislature. Legislators thanked Griep for her service and celebrated her promotion.

By a vote of 8-4 (Legislators Sigler (R-Lansing), Brown (R-Newfield), Lane (D-Dryden), Shurtleff (R-Groton) opposed, John (D-Ithaca) excused) the Legislature decided to suspend the local boards of assessment review. The lack of attendance and ultimate dismissal of most past claims as unfounded were cited as reasons to discontinue the activity. Legislators Brown and Sigler referenced the few property owners who do turn out as an engagement activity and one worth having in case of a mistake by the Assessment Department. The public can still contact the department directly with any concerns about their property assessment.