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

Legislature Approves Resolution to Renew Transportation Agreement Regarding TCAT

A resolution to renew the transportation agreement with the City of Ithaca, Cornell University, and Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit (TCAT) passed unanimously (13-0, Legislator Dan Klein (D-Danby) excused).

Legislator Deborah Dawson (D-Lansing) who served on the negotiating team on behalf of the county spoke about how an agreement has been reached, “Changes reflect the understanding of the City, Cornell, and Tompkins County to move forward with this negotiation, as the current agreement expires in October.” Dawson added that a new provision in the contract states that if the TCAT board submits a budget with substantial changes, all three underwriters would have the right to consider the changes in line with their agreement. Dawson stated, “Any decision TCAT would make that would have that large of an impact on their budget, all partners would participate in, and no one would be taken by surprise.”

Legislature Chairwoman Shawna Black (D-Ithaca) thanked Legislator Deborah Dawson (D-Lansing) for her work in the negotiations, “Thank you for being steadfast and sticking with this. I’m glad we didn’t give up on it.”

Legislature Accepts Recommendations of Independent Redistricting Commission

A resolution accepting the recommendations of the Tompkins County Independent Redistricting Commission passed 11-2, with Legislators Granison (D-Ithaca) and Brown (R-Newfield) in opposition and Legislator Klein (D-Danby) excused. The acceptance follows several months of discussion and the Legislature having sent the initial report from the commission back for further review, following which the commission re-convened and unanimously agreed to send back the initial proposed map.

Legislator Mike Lane (D-Dryden) commented, “I want to thank the commission for taking seriously the resolution returning the report… I think they did take a strong look. The process here continues to be excellent; I can’t say I agree with the outcome, but that’s the way it works when you share power.” Lane continued, “I do think we probably will be the only county that will be going up in the number of legislators… I don’t know how many have an even number of legislators, and yet we will have an even number for ten years… there will be divided votes, 50/50, it will take nine people to pass a resolution rather than eight. I do think we need to look at the criteria that we suggest to the commission in the charter again, and for all those reasons I will be voting for this tonight, but I do hope that it does not hamstring our legislature in the future.”

In opposition, Legislator Randy Brown (R-Newfield) stated “I think it’s a waste of money, I don’t see the value in adding two legislators…”

Legislator Travis Brooks (D-Ithaca) shared his opinion that minority community members are being disenfranchised by being centralized into one district, and how the Legislature by extension may continue to lack racial and income diversity. Several Legislators responded that their districts also include low-income housing developments and that the opinion might not fully reflect the district lines drawn by the commission.

Chairwoman Black Gives Statement on Tompkins County’s Support of Freedom of the Press, Speech, Reimagining Public Safety and Law Enforcement

Legislature Chairwoman Shawna Black (D-Ithaca) gave the following statement during her Chair’s report:

Let me state clearly that Tompkins County unequivocally supports freedom of the press and free speech. We believe in and strive for a transparent and truthful government. We believe in encouraging public participation and appreciate the public input and feedback that we receive, even if it is contrary to our own opinions.

On the topic of freedom of the press - recently there have been defamatory and uninformed accusations made against our County Communications Director related to his relationship with the local press.

The fact is that each local publication, when asked, has come forward in the press to deny any abuse of power or misconduct by Mr. Recckio. 

It is also a fact that our County Attorney, Bill Troy, issued a report that found no base to the accusations after his review.   

Our county values explicitly include integrity and respect. We hold our employees and those who engage with us to those same values.

The accusations in question center around corrections that were requested on a column referencing Reimagining Public Safety. Unfortunately, Reimagining has become a flashpoint for our community.  

Some groups automatically and loudly claim that Reimagining is anti-police, or entail defunding the police – but let me be very clear, regardless of politics or party lines, that could not be further from the truth.

Reimagining Public Safety is an investment in better, more transparent, and more equitable way of policing. It’s an investment in finding ways to meet our community’s increasing needs while freeing up law enforcement officers to handle serious and criminal issues. It is not an anti-police or defund the police measure.

Associating other difficult challenges facing our communities with Reimagining isn’t helping us solve problems either. Instead, it’s making challenges more political and harder to address – it’s also making it much harder to communicate the truth of what is actually happening and included under Reimagining.

Correcting the record of what is and isn’t under Reimagining is the work of this County, just as supporting our law enforcement agencies and emergency services. As we embark upon a new year, with recovery funds, opioid settlement funds, and different priorities brought forth in our budget – we have the chance to examine ongoing issues that continue to plague the county such a mental health, substance abuse, and homelessness.

I’m personally tired of hearing that Legislators and specifically Democrats don’t support law enforcement. At this table as elected officials we pride ourselves on the great work that is done by our county employees - specifically those that work at our Sheriff’s Office.   

We recognize that each and every day - deputies leave their families to go to work and protect our communities, schools, and families.

Let me say it one more time, Tompkins County Supports our Sheriff’s Office and law enforcement.

They say that money speaks and while I can stand here and talk about supporting our Sheriff’s Office - the real evidence is looking at our investment.   

The Sheriff’s Department has a $6.6 million annual operating budget. 

Reimagining Public Safety has added to our Sheriff’s budget and to the Community Justice Center, including additional staff, funding to support 6 of the collaborative County/City Reimagining Public Safety Plans, and the Sheriff Office’s Unarmed Response Pilot Program, a 3 Year pilot, all totaling an additional half a million dollars in 2022, with more being requested in our 2023 recommended budget.

In our 2023 budget we will see addition of positions in the District Attorney’s office, Mental health, and Sheriff’s Office to support additional important work.

As public officials and community leaders, we can’t let unfounded and political accusations taint the positive work we are doing on a daily basis or with our work on Reimagining Public Safety and our efforts to support law enforcement.

We have real, complex, and difficult issues facing our county. It is important to face these issues collaboratively and with respect shown to differences of opinion. Sowing the seeds of division does not help us solve the challenges before us, and it does not help us stay on task to work through the important responsibilities that we have been given.

Resolution Passes Supporting Green Facilities Program Cost Increases

A resolution recommending bonding to complete phase one of the Green Facilities Project amidst price increases and inflation passed unanimously, 13-0 (Legislator Dan Klein (D-Danby) was excused). The resolution commits Tompkins County to including $7,097,492 in the 2023 budget to support phase one of the project and allows the county to bond for the additional costs of the program. There was discussion on the length of bonds offered, which in this case is based on the useful life of the project – after being divided into components it was decided to be at 25 years.

Legislator Mike Sigler (R-Lansing) stated, “Phase one is the low-hanging fruit. The return on investment is still there, that’s why I’m voting for it.”

Among Other Business

Legislator Rich John (D-Ithaca) reported on a conversation had at the last Public Safety Committee meeting regarding ambulance service, the need for adequate coverage across the county, and what responsibilities in this area the County should consider. John reported on difficulties being faced by emergency medical services, and that “ambulance service has not traditionally been an activity of the County Government.” John detailed the request made at the meeting for the County to consider the addition of a “fly car” in addition to the current services available in the County. A fly car would not provide emergency transport but would provide immediate medical assistance and assessment of what other services might be needed. John detailed the financial commitment that would be needed from the county “One fly car is really talking about five people, if you’re talking about 24/7.” John stated, “We would want to supplement the existing services, Dryden, Groton, Trumansburg, and Bangs Ambulance, and the volunteers. It would be an enhancement, not a replacement.” The end point of the conversation was a request to the County Administrator to consider an EMS Coordinator position, John added that “given the current state of services it might make sense for us to consider it this year.”

A proclamation was read recognizing Latinx Heritage Month. The resolution stated, “Tompkins County is home to an active, growing, and civically engaged Latinx community. Virtually every aspect of our community’s life has been influenced by Latinx (culture), whether in arts, medicine, government, labor, business, or volunteerism.” Legislator Veronica Pillar (D-Ithaca) added a reflection on recent events to the conversation about Latinx Heritage Month, speaking about how following Hurricane Fiona a majority of Puerto Ricans are without power and further reflected on their status as a U.S. Territory.

The Legislature approved a resolution establishing Community Justice Center Advisory Board unanimously, 13-0 (Legislator Dan Klein (D-Danby) excused). A similar resolution will be considered by the City of Ithaca Common Council, as it is meant to be a joint body supporting the work of Reimagining Public Safety.

Legislator Mike Lane (D-Dryden) spoke about his experience attending the POW/MIA Watchfire held in Lansing over the weekend. For photos of the event (Credit Rob Henry, Tompkins County Media Production), visit:

Legislator Rich John (D-Ithaca) reported on his attendance at the New York State Association of Counties conference. John spoke about a session on counties responding to the mental health crisis, sharing that many counties also share Tompkins County’s issues, but that there is shared hope for the new 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. John also spoke about attending a session on the impending legalization of marijuana sales in New York, as well as a session on funding county projects through federal and state grants. Regarding the grants, John shared that the message at the conference was to not go for grants if you’re not prepared to manage them, however while large cities have infrastructure to support applications, there was discussion at the conference encouraging smaller municipalities to apply for the grant funding as it is relevant to local issues. John encouraged staff to consider how the organization would need to staff up to apply for grants of larger magnitude through the federal and state governments. Tompkins County Administrator Lisa Holmes also spoke about her experience at the conference, and attendance at sessions on opioid settlement funds, budgeting and economic forecasts, and strategic planning for county operations. 

Legislature Chairwoman Shawna Black (D-Ithaca) acknowledged local Ithaca High School students who attended the meeting as part of their government class and thanked them for their civic participation.  

During the Health and Human Services Committee Report, Legislator Shawna Black (D-Ithaca) shared the news that she will be naming an Opioid Task Force made up of Legislators Randy Brown (R-Newfield), herself, and Travis Brooks (D-Ithaca). The Task Force will also include local experts on the issue, organizations involved with efforts on addiction and recovery, and community members with lived experience.

Legislator Lee Shurtleff (R-Groton) reported on activities happening to inform the community about the Community Recovery Fund. More information and details on the application can be found at: Shurtleff reported that the level of interest has been very high so far.