Tompkins County Council of Governments
for December 14, 2022
by Councilperson Robert Lynch
Enfield TCCOG Representative
The Tompkins County Council of Governments (TCCOG) met on December 1st, its final bimonthly meeting of the year always scheduled earlier to avoid the end-of-month holidays. As a housekeeping matter, TCCOG’s membership decided to move meetings in 2023 to the fourth Thursday in odd-numbered, rather than even-numbered months, with an adjustment for Thanksgiving. Accordingly, our next TCCOG meeting will be on January 26th.
Highways: Tompkins County Highway Director Jeff Smith gave the meeting’s principal presentation. Smith focused on mutual aid and shared services between the county and town highway departments. Smith said that cooperation as mutually-beneficial.
“Sometimes we’re the collector of information.” Smith told TCCOG. “There might be a town struggling on one side of the county that doesn’t know that the other town just finished a project very similar, so we connect them.” On an equipment level, Smith said the County department has loaned out “loaders, sweepers, the County’s paver, and professional advice.” Often the loaned equipment, the Director said, comes with an operator.
Ulysses Supervisor Katelin Olson mentioned that her town, like Enfield, has an equipment operator opening and asked Smith how his Department might help. To that question, Smith provided perhaps the most beneficial comment of the meeting. Smith acknowledged the ongoing problem of finding those with CDL licenses. He said the federal government’s more stringent licensing requirements have worsened the shortage. When federal rules first came out, Smith said, licensing applicants needed to spend $5,000-$6,000 to attend a truck-driving school to obtain both classroom and field training.
However, the Director advised us, his department has found a solution. Taking advice from Lansing, Smith said, his department has hired a seasonal worker who’s passed his written exam and then placed him in a truck with an existing CDL licensee and given that permit holder driving time. Moreover, Smith said, his department has found an online course where applicants can obtain class instruction toward a permit exam for just $300-$400. He said the County pays the instructional cost, and then provides the in-vehicle hours. The DVM then counts those logged hours toward those required to take a road test.
Danby Supervisor Joel Gagnon asked whether anyone’s considered consolidation of highway maintenance services, either between towns, or between the county and the towns. Smith responded he’s observed that sometimes a town may absorb maintenance services for an included village, though sometimes a village breaks away and forms its own department when it find town-provided services insufficient. Smith expressed caution as to the size and manageability of any combined service.
“I think we’re always running at a minimum,” Jeff Smith observed of his own department. “There may be savings, but there may be a cost of services,” he said. Smith noted that his department could perhaps save on plow trucks, but only if residents would accept fewer plow runs per day past their homes. “Consolidating things, I’d be very cautious about,” Smith said.
Jeff Smith also pointed to the cooperation that his department has with most of Tompkins County’s rural towns in their contractual snow and ice agreements with the County Department. Only Enfield and Newfield lack those three-year agreements, in large part due to the County Highway Garage’s proximity to the two towns.
Jeff Smith mentioned the annual material services bid that his department obtains from suppliers. I thanked Smith for the benefits in both time and expense that the mutual bidding provided when Enfield recently needed to purchase on short notice asphalt to pave the floor of its new salt barn.
Assessment Review Boards: I requested the opportunity to convey to TGGOG members our Town of Enfield’s position supporting retention of town-based Local Advisory Boards of Assessment Review. I also advised TCCOG of a meeting earlier that afternoon by the Government Operations Committee of the Tompkins County Legislature. At that earlier meeting, Director of Assessment Jay Franklin advanced his idea that the local Advisory Boards had outlived their usefulness and should be discontinued. The legislative committee took no action on Franklin’s recommendation but indicated an informal consensus favoring a resolution to be presented in January. That resolution would suspend the Advisory Boards for 2023 and then revisit the County Charter to in one member’s words “create some efficiencies” in the Advisory Board process, perhaps through possible consolidation of Advisory Boards among adjoining towns.
The Chair of the County Legislature, the Town of Ithaca’s Shawna Black, County Government’s representative to TCCOG, expressed her preference for disbanding the Advisory Board’s. Black stated that for the three years she sat on the Advisory Board in the Ithaca Town, just one aggrieved property owner had shown up at the hearing. “Our Assessment Office is ranked very, very highly,” Black said. She said that anyone protesting assessments can either call or email assessment officials with their concerns.
“I’m always happy to go to them, Bob,” Black told me regarding Advisory Board meetings, “But I think if we look at who’s actually showing up, there could be seven people (3 legislators and four staff) hanging around for three hours over three years and only one person coming, it doesn’t seem effective.”
I noted that County Assessment will institute changes in 2023. It will reassess all properties, some by means of sampling. And it will put in place more formalized complaint procedures. “There may be more interest in these Local Boards,” I told TCCOG. “And maybe the only way we’re going to find out is to hold them one more year before we revise the system and see if there is increased interest. If there is not, then maybe they’ve outlived their usefulness.”
TCCOG took no action on whether the Local Advisory Boards should continue.
Robert Lynch, Councilperson
Enfield TCCOG Representative