May News Briefs:
Ithaca’s Leftward March
(May 31): I remember the days—decades ago—when Republicans held an almost insurmountable lock on Enfield politics. (Remember Supervisor Bob Linton?) Those days are gone. So, too, are those when an Ithaca City Republican held even a prayer of a chance.
But now, even the traditional Democratic Party looks endangered, facing an insurgent challenge from self-proclaimed Socialists and those whose first loyalty lies with the Working Families Party. (Yes, to those of us over 50, most candidates look like kids.)
Here’s how The Ithaca Voice shakes out this year’s Ithaca battle between Left and uber-Left. It’s not Mayor Ed Conley’s Ithaca anymore. Or even Carolyn Peterson’s.
Thanks to Enfield’s 213
(May 30): On Tuesday afternoon, I handed the Tompkins County Board of Elections 23 self-gathered Nominating Petitions that provided my race for Enfield Town Councilperson an Independent line in the November General Election.
I want to thank the 213 Enfield residents of all political stripes—Democrat, Republican, and Independent—who provided me the signatures to secure me the “One Enfield” party designation.
I’d filed for the same third-party line during my 2019 first run for office. An Independent nomination provides every voter the opportunity to support me in November regardless of the Democratic Primary’s outcome. It also allows those who’d never vote for a Democrat the choice to cast their ballot for me while otherwise holding true to their principles.
I needed just 67 names to earn the Independent line. But I got three times that number for one simple reason: I wanted to meet you; and more importantly, to hear your concerns about Enfield. / Bob Lynch
Bailey files for Town Justice
(May 30): Cortney Bailey, president of the Enfield Community Council and a 2021 write-in candidate for Enfield Town Supervisor, has charted a new political course for herself. She wants to become Town Justice.
Confirming months of speculation, Bailey filed Nomination Petitions Thursday (May 25) to run for Town Justice under the Independent “Enfield First” party designation. The Gray Road resident will face Heather Knutsen-King, the Republican Party nominee, in the November General Election. Democrats did not field a candidate for Town Justice.
The position of Town Justice remains vacant following the retirement of Betty Poole, who ended decades of service to Enfield last December. Knutsen-King has served as Clerk of the Enfield Justice Court since January.
Rollins/Willis Race Set
(May 30): Whoever wins the June 27th Republican Primary for Enfield Town Highway Superintendent, the loser will live on to fight in November.
Tompkins County Board of Elections officials Tuesday revealed that Chris Willis, the Black Oak Road resident who’s challenged long-time incumbent Barry “Buddy” Rollins in the GOP Primary, submitted that day nominating petitions to secure for himself an Independent line in the General Election.
Rollins was already assured November ballot placement, as Democrats cross-endorsed him in April. Democrats had no Highway Superintendent candidate of their own. Willis’ Independent petitions could still be challenged.
As of late Tuesday, the deadline date for submissions, no previously-unannounced Independent candidates had petitioned for either Enfield Town Supervisor or Councilperson. If that holds, Supervisor Stephanie Redmond would coast into the November election unopposed.
Food Pantry Seeks Help
(May 26): Demand is up. Supplies are down. And the Enfield Pantry needs your help.
“We are in a financial crisis,” Enfield Food Distribution Director Jean Owens wrote local residents in an email May 23rd, one whose message bordered on desperation.
“Presently, our funds to secure food to continue to provide for those coming to us for help are almost depleted,” Owens wrote. “We are in a financial crisis. We will continue to distribute whatever foods we can secure including all those rescued foods we glean from our local stores.”
Owens’ request exclusively sought funds for the provision of food. She referenced that from January through December of last year, the Enfield Food Pantry served 24,372 households, 22,216 children, 45,626 adults, and 8,102 of the elderly.
Owens urged checks be made to the First Baptist Church of Enfield Center. Write “Food Pantry” on the memo line. Checks can be mailed to Jean Owens, 800 Enfield Falls Rd., Newfield, NY 14867.
Joly Alleges Reverse Discrimination
(May 26): Former Acting Ithaca Police Chief John Joly puts it bluntly: He alleges in a forthcoming lawsuit that he was passed over for permanent Chief because he is a white man.
A notice of claim, filed in March and this week detailed by The Ithaca Voice, alleges that key city officials, including half of Common Council, and most pointedly, the City’s African-American Director of Human Resources, steered the Police Chief’s selection process to give favor to a competing candidate, one who is Black.
Joly, currently on a self-declared personal leave, claims the HR Director elevated race to the forefront of community forums. It reportedly led to a search committee’s favoring the Black candidate. But Mayor Laura Lewis nominated Joly anyway, only to pull the nomination days later when numerous Alderpersons declared their opposition.
John Joly’s used an obscenity to describe the selection process. And his latest actions underscore the unending friction between police culture and Ithaca’s liberal politics.
ICSD: Two Incumbents Out
(May 17): No, a taxpayer revolt never occurred. But voters in the Ithaca City School District did oust two School Board incumbents in Tuesday’s election, preliminary results showing Christopher Malcolm and Patricia Wasyliw losing to a pair of Board newcomers.
School Board President Sean Eversley Bradwell secured the most votes (2187) to assure his reelection. Just four votes behind him, Garrick Blalock took the second of four seats up for election.
Another newcomer, Katie Apker, came in third. Adam Krantweiss secured the fourth seat, a shortened term caused by an earlier resignation.
Joe Lonsky—the guy with the yard signs—finished far behind anyone else, garnering only 599 votes. Lonsky had waged a taxpayer-friendly insurgent campaign, arguing schools spend too much and waste too much.
Of note, all four winning ICSD candidates Tuesday held the teachers union’s endorsement. Only 66 votes separated the first and fourth-place finishers, showing perhaps the power of the ITA.
Ithaca’s school budget passed handily, 73% to 27%. A proposition to buy buses did even better, winning by a four-to-one margin.
This Year, the Budget Passed
(May 17): In 2022, the Newfield School Board struggled with its budget, voters initially rejecting the district’s spending plan, only later adopting a trimmed-down version. Tuesday, the results were different.
By a roughly three-to-two margin, Newfield voters approved, on its first outing, a $24.5 Million budget to operate the school system for the next year. The vote was 163-112. By similar margins, voters authorized the purchase of three electric school buses—soon a state mandate—and established a “Transportation Capital Reserve Fund,” which would, in part, buy electric buses and their associated hardware.
The vote margin proved instructive here, because last year, the Newfield District Budget also earned majority support, but not the 60 per cent required to override a state-mandated tax cap.
Had the same rule applied this year, the budget would have lost again, just barely. But officials say the district kept the tax levy beneath the tax cap, meaning passage required only a simple majority.
In elections to the Newfield School Board, both incumbents were elected. Jeremy TenWolde secured 213 votes; Missy Rynone, 208. Both ran unopposed.
ECC Tax Bailout Pulled… Again
(May 16): Tuesday, for the second straight meeting—and after this Town Councilperson once again made an impassioned plea for downtown help—Tompkins County legislator Randy Brown withdrew his member-filed Resolution aimed at relieving the Enfield Community Council from a taxation oversight that had allegedly cost it more than $20,000.
Brown had offered the Resolution to provide required County Government endorsement of a special State law that would waive the one year’s worth of property taxes ECC purportedly paid the County, the Town of Enfield, its Fire Company, and the Ithaca City School District.
But later, after the meeting adjourned, Brown explained that ECC officials now admit they, themselves, never paid most of the tax. And whenever a taxpayer defaults, Brown said, County Government steps in to reimburse the other taxing entities. Brown said he’s heard no talk of Tompkins County foreclosing on ECC, as it would a private homeowner.
This latest delay will allow everyone time to sort matters out—yet again. But because the State Legislature plans to adjourn in early-June, and the County Legislature won’t reconvene until June 6, it could be next year before the matter’s resolved. / RL
Sowing Seeds in Newfield
(May 12): The Newfield Town Board took an important first step Thursday toward an ambitious, more than $1 Million investment, including renovation of its Town Hall and construction of two park pavilions.
By a unanimous vote among the three Board members attending, the Board approved a contract with STREAM Collaborative to design the capital improvements, most notable among them the construction of a new Town Hall meeting room estimated to cost $400,000. Another projected $117,000 would be spent on offices; $40,000 for code-compliant restrooms; more than $450,000 for both pavilions.
Only the design work was authorized Thursday. It will cost the Town about $29,000. And while American Rescue Plan funding will cover some of the later construction, Supervisor Michael Allinger admits it won’t cover it all, and that total project funding remains an unresolved issue.
Less glamorous, yet more expensive at the moment, the Newfield Board also Thursday awarded a more than $885,000 bid by Frank P. Kane Construction for sewer system improvements. Kane’s was the lowest bid of four submitted. Allinger said the sewer work—most of it grant-funded—will address concerns state regulators have raised about excessive sewer “inflow.”
Newfield’s engineering consultant recommended Kane Construction, writing that it’s “found them to be competent to complete the work at hand” based on Kane’s work at a project in Naples.
GOP: Hold Enfield ARPA Hostage:
(May 12): To my knowledge, nobody, not even The New York Times, has asked this. But when I did Wednesday night at the Enfield Town Board, Supervisor Stephanie Redmond’s widened eyes revealed her surprise.
During a routine annual report by our Town’s auditors, I asked audit partner Duane Shoen whether when House Republicans, in federal debt ceiling talks, propose canceling unspent COVID Relief funds, if they mean clawing back American Rescue Plan awards, including nearly $350,000 given the Town of Enfield.
“Absolutely yes,” Shoen quickly answered. “Congress is definitely looking at that ARPA money.” If the money’s “uncommitted,” he said, Republicans may regard it as fair game. “It’s still sitting in the bank,” Shoen observed. “If that money remains uncommitted, it’s definitely possible, depending on how those negotiations work out, that there may be some effort to claw some of that back.”
Would it be wise “that we spend that money as soon as we possibly can?” I asked.
“Yes,” Shoen answered. “I’m going to keep my fingers crossed and say they’re at least going to give you to the end of 2023 to spend it. And certainly if they do decide to claw it back, I’d certainly take that opportunity, if you can, rather than have to return it,” he recommended.
For the record, the Biden Administration opposes tampering with COVID relief funds. But talks to avoid default remain at impasse. / RL
Bad Building Day:
(May 11): Tompkins County Director of Facilities Arel LeMaro had disappointment for anyone hoping to save and repurpose either the Key Bank Building on Tioga and Buffalo Street or the historic “Red House” a block down the street, both owned by County Government and both likely candidates for demolition.
LeMaro told the County Legislature’s Facilities and Infrastructure Committee Thursday that it would take millions—more millions than first thought—to retrofit both structures. His grim prognosis gives increased impetus to demolishing the bank building and the former law office next to it and use the site for a $20-40 Million Center of Government.
LeMaro predicted it would cost more than $4.9 Million to renovate the bank building, upwards of $2.25 Million to make the Red House fit for county offices. Replacing the rusting steel window system on the 1960’s-era Key Bank would cost $1 Million alone. “It’s an energy guzzler,” LeMaro told the committee.
“I don’t think the County should buy any more buildings,” Newfield legislator Randy Brown quipped. “We really know how to pick ‘em,” committee colleague Greg Mezey replied.
Committee Chair Mike Lane reminded everyone Tompkins County bought the buildings primarily for the land they sit on. “Then I think what we should go forward with is the land, instead of these buildings,” Mezey concluded. “Because we’re essentially like halfway to the down payment” on a new building, he said.
Town Board takes a “Breezy” Pass
(May 10): Though given ample opportunity to do so, the Enfield Town Board Wednesday declined to push back on its Planning Board’s decision of a week earlier to approve the environmental acceptability of the proposed, controversial, Breezy Meadows 33-lot subdivision spanning each side of Tucker Road.
Planning Board Chair Dan Walker faced 40 minutes of questioning by Councilperson Robert Lynch (this writer) over Lynch’s concerns that New York Land and Lakes’ 337-acre subdivision may endanger neighborhood water well supplies, and that Walker’s Board should have done more to protect them.
Town Board members expressed little interest in weighing in, Supervisor Stephanie Redmond asserting that a better approach is for the Town to tighten site plan laws affecting future developments.
Lynch offered to introduce a Resolution criticizing the Planning Board’s May third action. The three other Town Board members attending begged off, and Lynch declined to put it onto the floor.
The Resolution would have stated the Town Board’s disagreement with the planners’ Negative Determination of Environmental Significance and would have sought to condition Breezy Meadow’s final approval on “a professionally-prepared, sufficiently-rigorous hydrological study… to document the absence of significant adverse impact on the water well resources.”
The Enfield Planning Board could grant Breezy Meadows final approval June 7th.
Fire Hearing Set: Sentiment Clear
(May 10): Unless sentiments change unexpectedly, expect the Enfield Volunteer Fire Company to fall under new oversight soon.
By a pair of 4-0 votes, the Enfield Town Board Wednesday set a pair of legally-required Public Hearings for June 14th. They’d take comment on creation of a “Fire District” to replace the “Fire Protection District” under which the EVFC provides Enfield its services. Much more than a name change, the conversion would take oversight away from the Town Board and put it into the hands of a separately-elected Board of Fire Commissioners.
Though one Town Board member remained uncommitted, three others—a majority—voiced support for the idea. Fire Company President Dennis Hubbell and Company Secretary Ellen Woods also expressed support.
Councilperson Robert Lynch (this writer) supported scheduling the hearings, but objected to the scheduling resolution’s text that implied that the Board has already agreed that the change stands “in the public interest.” Lynch said he wants to hear testimony first before making up his mind, cautioning he’s found public support that’s only “lukewarm,” but limited opposition that’s “vocal” and “passionate.”
Let’s Have a Debate:
(May 5): Enfield Democrats Friday began the discussions on holding a candidate forum (or some other name comparable to “debate”) prior to the June 27th Democratic Primary for Enfield Town offices.
As most know, the two Town Councilpersons positions that James Ricks and I hold will be subject to a primary, Melissa Millspaugh having successfully petitioned to compete for a Councilperson’s position. No other offices on the Democratic side will have primaries.
The last time we had a Town Primary was 2019, when more offices had opposing candidates. I hope Enfield will host a candidate forum. As details shake out, I will duly inform.
But as I wrote Democratic leaders today, “Democracy works when voters are informed.”
A Moving Tax Target:
(May 5): Tuesday night, the Tompkins County Legislature adopted a “2024 Financial Goal,” hurriedly pushed onto the table by Budget Committee Chair Deborah Dawson. It targeted a 5.53 per cent increase in next year’s Tompkins County tax levy. Some saw it as way premature, resolved a full six months before the budget’s adoption, and based on state funding assumptions made before the State Budget had been hammered out. Legislators Mike Sigler and Enfield-Newfield’s Randy Brown opposed it.
They had good reason. By Thursday morning, in a Zoom conference with municipal officials, County Administrator Lisa Holmes had already downscaled the projections. Holmes’ new math placed the levy increase somewhere around 3.62 per cent. It could drop lower—even to zero—before next November. Lawmakers hate raising taxes.
“I urge you to resist the temptation to back off and lower the levy goal just in case things don’t turn out as miserably as we might expect it,” Dawson urged legislators Tuesday.
“I guess I’m an optimist,” Randy Brown said. “And I believe that our revenues are good and will continue to increase, and our fund balances are more than significant.” And of the projected 5.5% tax hike Brown added, “I think anything close to this increase would be ridiculous and not right to do.”
A story, posted on this website, gives details.
Lifeline to Local Culture:
(May 5): In a few respects—but only now in retrospect—the dark days of our rebounding from the closures of COVID-19 weren’t as dark as first thought. In fact, local tourism bounced back incredibly fast. And as a result, a windfall in Hotel Room Tax Revenue has flowed into Tompkins County coffers, far exceeding the conservative estimates earlier made by the County’s Tourism Program.
This week, the Tompkins County Legislature—at the strong urging of local arts and cultural groups—adjusted the budget to reallocate more than $1.4 Million in windfall receipts. Numerous arts organization leaders addressed the Legislature in late-April when the reallocation was first proposed. Brett Brossard, Chair of the Strategic Tourism Planning Board, spoke to the transfer’s favor May 2, when lawmakers finally took action.
A key provision involved $685,000 moved to fund Arts and Cultural Organizational Development Grants that will help “stabilize vulnerable organizations.” Several of those organizations, according to the Resolution, “are facing severe financial difficulty.” Indeed at the earlier meeting, notables in the local arts community said the pandemic has left them on the brink of closing. This new money, they said, would help.
Legislature OK’s New TCRF Funding:
(May 2): Final approval came quickly and without controversy Tuesday as the Tompkins County Legislature awarded $510,000 in Tompkins Community Recovery Funds to 14 agencies, including to the Town of Enfield, the Town’s more than $26,000 assigned to purchase new Highway Department radios.
“Looking at the list, I think we’ve done a really good job,” Legislature Chair Shawna Black commented.
The $510,000 came from funds originally set aside for Newfield’s Second Wind Cottages, but then repurposed when Second Wind dropped its plan for additional housing for the homeless, amid community resistance.
But the funding reassignment work might not be over. And if it’s not, the Enfield Voluntary Fire Company could benefit. Khuba International’s cooperative farm in Danby is among the newly-funded applicants. And Khuba has a problem similar to Second Wind’s. In Khuba’s case, the project right now fails to comply with the Danby zoning law, and two Danby Town Board members have voiced concerns.
“I’m ambivalent on this one,” legislator Rich John said Tuesday, though he still supported Khuba’s $74,000 award. “I do want to include the message to the Town Board that this is their decision, and they’re supposed to take their zoning seriously.”
The Enfield Fire Company barely lost out in the latest Recovery Fund scoring. And if Khuba were to drop out, as Second Wind did earlier, EVFC could have a shot at capturing their money.
[A longer story on this vote is now posted.]
Alan Teeter Steps Back:
(May 1): The retirement of Alan Teeter as Newfield’s Codes Officer, effective June 2, was acknowledged by the Newfield Town Board at its meeting April 27. Teeter’s Newfield decision will not affect his continued service as Code Enforcement Officer for Enfield, Teeter confirmed Monday.
Newfield Board members explained—and the retiree confirms— that Teeter wants to step back a bit; to devote greater attention to his Enfield job, his beef farm, and his family.
Though Newfield has a higher population, it has employed Teeter for fewer hours than has Enfield. Newfield officials indicate they’ve retained Teeter generally 10-12 hours per week at a $24 hourly compensation. Both Teeter and Newfield Town Board members acknowledge the job now requires an increased commitment. And discussion Thursday focused on how much time should be expected of a new appointee.
Supervisor Michael Allinger suggested that expanding the Codes Officer’s hours could lead to better enforcement of junk laws. But Town Bookkeeper Blixy Taetzsch cautioned that if it’s expanded beyond 20 hours per week, civil service law would subject the job to competitive testing. And at 30 hours or more, Town policy would require paying benefits.
At Allinger’s recommendation, the Board agreed to post the position at its current rate, and for now keep it at less than half-time. “Maybe somebody has a part-time position that needs some hours?” Councilperson Heather McCarty said. Tompkins County officials have raised intermunicipal job-sharing has a potential solution to the code enforcement employment shortage.
Though the Newfield Board hopes to make a hiring decision in late-May, Teeter said Monday, “I have agreed to stay on until they have a replacement that is trained and also certified to do the position which may take a while.”
Committee Backs Funding List:
(May 1): With minimal discussion and no revisions, an Advisory Committee of the County Legislature Monday morning unanimously endorsed the funding of 14 community applicants seeking second-round support under Tompkins County’s Community Recovery Fund. The recommendation goes before the full County Legislature Tuesday. It would provide $26,592 to buy new radios for the Enfield Highway Department, but support for no other Enfield applicant.
“I want to thank how the process worked out,” Enfield/Newfield legislator Randy Brown, an Advisory Committee member, commented. “It was good to see a wide range of programs funded, as well as numerous rural areas.”
No committee member saw need to disturb its funding spreadsheet, the product of scoring by all 14 members of the Legislature, a change from past practice.
(A more detailed report is now posted on this story.)