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Highlights of the November 15, 2022 meeting of the Tompkins County Legislature

Resolution Passes Establishing Special Election for District Three

A resolution establishing a special election for the Third Legislative District, scheduled for January 24, 2023, passed unanimously, 13-0. Now that the date has been declared the Board of Elections will establish the Political Calendar, which will be posted to the website and mailed to the local party chairs. Local parties will nominate candidates for the race to fill the late Legislator Henry Granison’s seat.

Commissioner of the Department of Social Services Presents on Code Blue Sheltering

Kit Kephart, Commissioner of the Department of Social Services (DSS) presented on Code Blue Sheltering in Tompkins County. Code Blue protects homeless individuals from inclement winter weather when temperatures dip below freezing, ensuring that those individuals are directed to shelter.

In Tompkins County any individual using this program is always directed to other housing and social support services by DSS staff. The Code Blue program lasts yearly from mid-October to mid-April, though other resources are available year-round and can be found at: https://tompkinscountyny.gov/dss

Kephart outlined that eligibility for Code Blue is self-reported and based on the weather. Kephart also shared that the program is vital because some individuals don’t take advantage of other social supports but will still seek shelter when the weather becomes harsh. Locations used for the program include a 19-bed shelter, congregate sheltering including places of worship and other locations with large rooms, and in some instances hotels as well.

Kephart detailed further data on sheltering, reporting that the demographics of shelter programming is shifting. More women and families are seeking shelter than in past years, with the number of families reported in her presentation nearing 20 and the number of women being nearly 30 – both doubling since 2021.

Legislator Mike Lane (D-Dryden) asked about who the people who seek the services are, and whether they are originally from the community or are out-of-towners seeking services here. Kephart responded that predominately the people seeking services are from Tompkins County, having lived here for some period of time, though there is somewhat of a transient population – perhaps slightly increased during Code Blue programming.

Legislator Mike Sigler (R-Lansing) asked about the relationship between homelessness and mental health issues or substance use, to which Kephart responded that the number is between 25-35% of individuals identifying substance use or mental health issues. Kephart added that she is concerned because much of the data is based on self-reports and would predict it is higher than reported. Following further inquiry from Sigler, Kephart said that Single Room Occupancy housing is of the greatest need locally from her perspective.

Legislator Travis Brooks (D-Ithaca) asked about the amount of rental assistance available to folks through DSS, which Kephart reported to be around $380-$400 for someone who is single and without children seeking shelter. Brooks further asked about how many people who utilize Code Blue on a regular basis are ineligible for services because of sanctions, which Kephart reported at around 30% while acknowledging that because of the self-reporting it is hard to track.

Among Other Business

In her Chairwoman’s report Legislator Shawna Black (D-Ithaca) recognized Tompkins County Dispatch Supervisor Zack Guidi, as he was recently awarded as the New York State Dispatcher of the Year. Black presented Guidi with a certificate of recognition and stated, “By all accounts, Zack has shown great commitment to our organization and the community, with several instances that note his responsiveness and great care taken during specific 9-1-1 calls. Zack is also a volunteer, serving as the Assistant Fire Chief in Newfield.”

In her report, Chairwoman Black also addressed, “the increased reports of acts of hate and antisemitism in our community.” Black added. “Hate symbols have been found in several places and recently on the Ithaca College campus. We do not stand for such acts of hate and bigotry. Thank you to those community members who have reported finding these symbols and to the institutions calling out this behavior and working to address hate and build bridges and foster belonging.”

Chairwoman Black also reflected on her recent experience participating in a ride along with Bangs Ambulance.

“I met with staff, was able to see the setup and how our county 9-1-1 dispatches the calls and they show up on the board at Bangs.

The evening I volunteered was quite busy - I followed one of the head paramedics, Tracy, in the Bangs fly car. We were called to the scene of an overdose in the afternoon and when we arrived – 3 Ithaca Police officers had already arrived to the scene first. All three officers were providing ongoing CPR and had administered multiple doses of Narcan. I can’t describe into words what it was like being in a small space with everyone taking a role to try to revive this young person. IPD continued chest compressions as Bangs and the Ithaca Fire Department intubated and found a central line to give medication. After 20 minutes of working on this young person – they were able to establish a pulse and they were taken to Cayuga Medical Center via ambulance.  

Minutes after that incident another call came in – and we hopped in the Bangs Fly car again and went to Cayuga Heights. We were met by the Cayuga Heights Fire Dept - Captain George Tamborelle and he explained the situation. An individual was in a ravine and non-responsive. Cayuga Heights fire fighters, Bangs Ambulance, and Ithaca Fire all worked together seamlessly to rappel down to the individual – and in the water they rendered CPR.   They then used ropes to bring the individual up and into the ambulance.

As I sat in the ambulance on the way to the hospital – I sat in amazement at how the work was so emotional, mentally, and physically exhausting – and was reminded I had only been “working for 4 hours.” I also considered how our law enforcement, emergency, and fire services do this every-single-day – 24 hours a day/365 days a year.

A few days ago, I read online that the young gentleman that overdosed that evening – did not make it. I want to express my heartfelt thoughts to the family. I can’t imagine the pain they are feeling.

  

The one thing that I took away from my ride along whether it be with our Sheriff’s Department, our fire department, or our local ambulance agency – we are so fortunate to live in a community where we have individuals who are professional, considerate, kind – and have a passion for helping others.

When there is an emergency – each agency arrives, ready to work, and do whatever it takes to have a positive outcome. I’ve heard about the sisterhood or brotherhood within these agencies, and I definitely saw that in effect.  

I want to say thank you to the Bangs Family, Tracy, Mel, Justin, and George – just to name a few for taking care of our constituents and sharing this experience with me.”

Legislator Amanda Champion (D-Ithaca) spoke in the spirit of Thanksgiving, recognizing Tompkins County employees, stating “we have over 700 employees, these are the people who come to work every day, they make sure our technology works, look over policy for us, work with people who have mental health challenges, they help moms who need help getting food, there’s so many things that Tompkins County employees do.” Champion continued, “These are the people that really make this operation run. The 13 of us (Legislators) are just here to make some decisions and support the work that they do.... the people that we hire are experts, becoming experts, and growing in their positions.”

Legislator Mike Sigler (R-Lansing) shared with the Legislature that Republican Elections Commissioner Tamara Scott will be leaving the position as she moves out of state, and that an election within the party will be held for the next Republican Commissioner on December 12.

During her report, Tompkins County Administrator Lisa Holmes detailed progress on the Reimagining Public Safety initiative, as well as ongoing issues collaborating with the City of Ithaca. Holmes detailed the County’s concerns about not knowing the City’s commitment to both financial backing of the plans and the work plans presented in September of this year – the City of Ithaca has not approved either the 2022 or 2023 work plans. Legislator Travis Brooks (D-Ithaca) thanked Community Justice Center Director Monalita Smiley for her efforts to date and sticking with the work amidst the difficulties, also commending her communication and event attendance with the City of Ithaca Police Benevolent Association (Union).

Tompkins County Attorney Bill Troy detailed that the County has been sued by a pastor in Elmira, N.Y. who claims that their civil rights are being violated by Chemung and Tompkins Counties. Troy added that this is a suit backed by efforts to ensure Second Amendment rights amidst the recent New York State law prohibiting the carrying a firearm in certain public places. Troy also reported that a case is now pending in the U.S. District Court in Binghamton N.Y. regarding excessive use of force by a Tompkins County Sheriff’s Deputy.

This was Tompkins County Finance Director Rick Snyder’s last meeting reporting to the Legislature, as he is retiring in two weeks. Snyder thanked especially his staff in the Finance Department. Legislators delivered a standing ovation to Snyder for his efforts in the role.

Legislator Dan Klein (D-Danby) reported on the activities of the Community Recovery Fund Committee, stating that today 141 (of 211) applications were voted on by the committee, with 53 of those being “yes” votes by a majority of the committee, which reduced the total dollar amount requested by around 60%. More work will occur in future meetings around further culling the applications to fit within the $6.5 million available for the program. Several Legislators commended Klein for his chairing of the committee and ushering the process forth.

The Legislature approved 12-1 (Legislator Deborah Dawson (D-Lansing) opposed) the 2023 Tompkins County Budget and impending Capital Program. Vice Chair of the Budget, Capital, and Personnel Committee Lee Shurtleff (R-Groton) read the resolution and that the approximate property tax levy increase is 0%, set at $5.65 per $1,000 in assessed property value. While the levy is not increasing it is anticipated that property taxes will rise in most cases in 2023 due to increased property values across the County - Shurtleff stated that the median value of a home in Tompkins County has increased by $20,000 in the past year, so for the average homeowner there would be just over a $20 increase in County property taxes. Legislator Mike Lane (D-Dryden) thanked County Administrator Lisa Holmes and the staff members who led the budget development as well as Legislator Deborah Dawson (D-Lansing) for her leadership chairing the process for the Legislature. Dawson remarked that she cannot support the budget due to the potential future constraints in the event of a recession or negative shift in the economy, speaking about the added over target requests funding above and beyond the initial budget.

A resolution designating the Ithaca Journal as the official County Newspaper initially failed 7-6 (Legislators Sigler (R-Lansing), Brooks (D-Ithaca), Dawson (D-Lansing), Lane (D-Dryden, Brown (R-Newfield), and Pillar (D-Ithaca) opposed) and was subsequently reconsidered, with an affirmative vote of 10-3 (Legislators Sigler, Brown, and Brooks opposed), leaving Tompkins County in compliance with New York State Law. Each year the County must designate a daily newspaper for notices and certain public communications to be published in. Legislator Mike Lane (D-Dryden) said he initially voted against it as an act of protest because the paper doesn’t cover local issues in the same way it used to. Legislator Greg Mezey (D-Dryden) shared that he hopes the Legislature will pass a resolution urging the State to amend the law requiring such a designation in support of a more accessible news source. Legislator Mike Sigler (R-Lansing) stated, “I would like to see what the State does to us (if it isn’t passed).”