July 2022 TCCOG Report

Monthly Report

Tompkins County Council of Governments

for July 13, 2022

by Councilperson Robert Lynch

Enfield TCCOG Representative

The Tompkins County Council of Governments (TCCOG) met June 23rd.  If someone was looking for a newsworthy revelation, it came from County Administrator Lisa Holmes, who revealed that Tompkins County plans to end its policy of mandatory COVID-19 testing for those of its employees who decline to vaccinate against the disease.  The mandate’s lifting has since taken the form of a Resolution endorsed, without discussion, by the County Legislature’s Government Operations Committee July 7th.  The committee forwarded the resolution to the full Legislature for adoption July 19th.

Holmes conveyed the mandate’s lifting to TCCOG because some municipalities—most notably, the Town and City of Ithaca; of course, not Enfield—adopted similar employee mandates following Tompkins County’s lead.  Ending the County directive, said Holmes, might also terminate the County policy of paying for the municipalities’ employee testing.  “We’re fine,” responded Ithaca Town Supervisor Rod Howe, who said his Town Board “was already thinking about ending” its vaccinate-or-test mandate.

At its June meeting, TCCOG created an additional, fifth committee to probe in-depth a newly-pressing municipal issue.   The committee will address “Cyber Security and IT Services.”  It joins existing committees focused on Energy, Transportation, Water Quality, and Emergency Planning and Preparedness.

The new committee’s formation followed Ulysses Supervisor Katelin Olson’s suggestion that the current committee structure may not focus on the most pressing intermunicipal needs.  “Are these committees a good reflection of what communities are facing?”  Olson asked.  “We have IT privacy security issues,” Olson remarked.  But we don’t, she said, have much problem in Ulysses with broadband.

An extended discussion followed, one that led both to the IT Committee’s formation and to a membership consensus to examine potential committee restructuring at a later meeting.  Trumansburg Mayor Rordan Hart suggested stormwater management deserves attention.  Ithaca Alderperson Cynthia Brock proposed looking at problems affecting the “unsheltered populations.”  I encouraged Brock’s focus be broadened to one of “Human Services.”  We in Enfield don’t have a problem with the unhoused, I told TCCOG.  But we do have problems with food insecurity.

Two additional discussion topics for TCCOG June 23rd concerned rural broadband and transportation.

Broadband:  The broadband discussion centered on the Town of Dryden’s bold and costly initiative to construct its own municipal broadband system.  Dryden officials admit their effort seeks not so much to provide first-ever broadband to the underserved, but rather to compete head-on with Charter-Spectrum, the commercial provider that currently dominates the Dryden broadband market.

“Rural municipalities were intrigued by the Dryden experiment,” the Ithaca Town’s Rod Howe told TCCOG, relating earlier comments expressed at a monthly meeting of town supervisors.  Howe’s statement prompted discussion among TCCOG members as to whether Dryden’s broadband design consultant, Hunt Engineers, should address a future meeting of TCCOG, or whether, instead, a smaller meeting of interested TCCOG members be convened.  TCCOG chose the latter course. 

Since TCCOG’s June meeting, a Special meeting has been set for July 26th on zoom.  Ryan Garrison, Director of Technology with Hunt, will present a talk entitled, “Municipal broadband and public investment in private networks: competition, cooperation, or both?   What are the options?”  The meeting will also be streamed later on YouTube.

I doubt municipally-owned and operated broadband holds any future for Enfield.  Nonetheless, I plan to attend the meeting and will report back to this Board in August.

Some towns remain very interested, however.  Lansing Councilperson Joe Wetmore reported his town is “trailing behind Dryden,” and may expand its own project scope to include municipal fiber-optic lines as well as broadband cable.  Danby Supervisor Joel Gagnon said his town’s problem involves pockets of unserved or underserved populations.  If the Town underwrites commercial cable extensions, said Gagnon, the problem becomes “We pay for it, and they [the cable operators] own it.”  Gagnon indicated “in-between options” exist between municipal and commercial broadband ownership and operations, including a municipality owning the cables and then renting service to a commercial ISP.

In April, at Dryden’s request, this Enfield Town Board endorsed a resolution urging State adoption of legislation to permit municipalities to operate municipal broadband systems.  Dryden Councilperson Dan Lamb told TCCOG that the requested legislation passed.  But a companion bill, to permit municipalities to bond for the expenses, while it passed the Assembly, never reached a Senate vote before the chamber’s adjournment.  Lamb is working to obtain Senate passage in the future.

Transportation:  During the COVID-19 pandemic, TCCOG’s Transportation Committee, which I chair, has lain largely dormant.  I’m trying to revive it, despite some challenges.  One of the committee’s members has resigned TCCOG and has declined my invitation to continue on the committee.  Another on the committee, now only an alternate TCCOG member, is on vacation until August.  The committee’s most enthusiastic continuing participant is Downtown Ithaca Alliance Executive Director Gary Ferguson, only an ancillary TCCOG member.  I invited Ferguson to address TCCOG about transportation concerns.

Predictably, Ferguson focused his attention on downtown Ithaca transit challenges.  Transportation priorities he mentioned were ;  1) Advancing “Transportation Command Management,” a concerted effort to lessen reliance on single-occupancy vehicles and increase use of public transportation;  2) To provide both short- and long-term solutions to the lack of an inter-city bus station, so that, in Ferguson’s words, “we’re not dumping people out on sidewalks,” a practice not “very esthetic,” or “very functional;” 2) Establishment of “on-demand” transit service for downtown residents;  4) Establishing a “Downtown Circulator” to link, via public transit, downtown, the waterfront development, and Route 13 businesses;  5) Planning toward the decommissioning of the aging Seneca Street Parking Garage;  6) Encouraging the return of E. Bike Sharing—remember the Lime Bikes?—and the potential addition of scooters to the mix, that despite the controversy that’s surrounded their possible presence; and  7) Establishing a transit link to South Hill’s “Chainworks” project.

In addition to Ferguson’s report, I shared concerns expressed at the May meeting of the TCAT Board of Directors.  TCAT’s most pressing concern involves the shortage of bus drivers.

Respectfully submitted,

Robert Lynch, Councilperson

Enfield TCCOG Representative