Enfield to Hochul: Save Our CHIPS!

Town Board presses to erase proposed cut in state highway aid

by Robert Lynch, March 17, 2024

Town roads don’t fix themselves.  There’s no magic.  Repairs cost money, often more money than cash-strapped towns like Enfield can afford by themselves.  That’s where Albany comes in.  And for municipalities and county governments, the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program, better known as “CHIPS,” has in recent years supplied the greatest assistance.

Rockwell Road at Porter Hill. Both Enfield roads are due for renovation this year, CHIPS willing.

But some now warn that CHIPS is on the chopping black.  And the Enfield Town Board wants to keep the ax from falling. 

Prompted by warnings primarily from Republican state lawmakers, the Town Board March 13th unanimously adopted a Resolution urging Governor Kathy Hochul to restore a reported $60 Million statewide cut in the CHIPS program that she’d included in her proposed 2024-25 Executive Budget.  The Resolution also asks that New York State bolster the underlying “base funding” for CHIPS so as to reflect the ever-increasing cost of getting local roads built.

“CHIPS is very important to our Highway Budget,” this writer, Councilperson, Robert Lynch, told the Enfield Board Wednesday as he introduced a Resolution urging restoration of the feared program cuts.  “If the CHIPS money is cut substantially, we’re going to be in budget binds,” he said.

“We can take all the state aid that they will give us,” this Councilperson added.  “And I hope they give us the same this year as last year.”

The CHIPS preservation initiative was one of three lobbying-type resolutions the Enfield Board adopted that night.  Two will go to Albany; a third to the Tompkins County Legislature.

CHIPS provided the Town of Enfield $153,641 during 2023.  That was road repair money Enfield taxpayers didn’t have to come up with themselves.  Combined with three other, lower-funded state programs, CHIPS supplied more than 15 per cent of the Enfield Highway Department’s revenues last year, according to December figures compiled by the Town’s bookkeeper.

And for road repairs alone, the four programs supplied over 56 per cent of the amount Highway Superintendent Barry “Buddy” Rollins proposed to the Town Board, and the Board approved, in his revised, so-called “284” funding agreement of last July.  Those Enfield repairs and improvements cost $434,000 last year.  The Town Board has similarly authorized Rollins to spend $421,000 during the current year.  Porter Hill and Rockwell Roads stand as prime candidates for resurfacing during 2024.

Big Flats State Senator Tom O’Mara, who until the 2022 redistricting represented Enfield, was among the first to sound the alarm bell about the proposed Hochul cuts to CHIPS.

Rallying for CHIPS: Center O’Mara (c) flanked by two Assembly members, with Highway Superintendents looking on, at the Big Flats Highway Garage.

“Unexpectedly, Governor Kathy Hochul has placed the future of state investment in local roads, bridges, and culverts in the crosshairs this year by calling for, as part of her proposed 2024-25 state budget, significant cuts to the state’s investment,” Senator O’Mara wrote in his weekly column to constituents February 26th, a message entitled, “Local Roads are Essential.”

“Most egregiously, the governor is calling for a $60 million cut for the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS), the state’s primary source of funding for local roads, bridges, and culverts,” O’Mara wrote.  “Simply put, her proposal cannot move forward.”

O’Mara stands as one of more than 50 New York legislators who’ve pressed hard for the CHIPS funding restoration.  Most are Republicans.  But of course, Republicans don’t control the New York State Legislature.  Democrats hold supermajorities in both houses.

Nonetheless, the majority party has since offered signs of hope.  In her constituent newsletter of Friday, March 15th, our district’s current State Senator, Democrat Lea Webb, detailed the Senate’s “One House Budget,” with its negotiating starting-point scripted by Webb’s fellow Democrats.

Among the many initiatives included in the Senate’s “One-House Budget,” Webb reported leadership has proposed “$160 million in additional support for (CHIPS), for a total of $698.1 Million.”

“By allocating resources to support local governments, the state not only invests in the vitality of individual communities but also strengthens the entire fabric of New York,” Senator Webb stated in her message.

Sen. Lea Webb: Maybe some upper-house support in saving CHIPS.

If the Senate Democrats’ negotiating starting point holds up, it would erase the $60 Million in reported Hochul cuts to CHIPS, and also get base funding at least part way to what O’Mara and other Republicans want.  Republicans want the funding base to rise by $200 Million this year to place its total at $798.1 Million.  According to Webb, Democrats would take it to just under $700M.

The Enfield Town Board’s adopted Resolution, while urging restoration of the Governor’s reported $60 Million cutback, kept total program funding open-ended.

“The Enfield Town Board respectfully requests Governor Hochul and legislative leaders to restore the $60 Million in proposed funding reductions to the CHIPS program in the 2024-2025 New York State Budget and additionally to consider substantial increases in base funding for CHIPS, increases consistent with the recommendations of Senator O’Mara and his legislative colleagues,” the adopted Resolution, introduced by this Town Councilperson, stated.

New York’s final State Budget is due by April first, though often misses the deadline.  Typically, the Governor and legislative leaders of the Senate and Assembly resolve their differences by huddling in closed-door discussions at the Eleventh Hour.  Legislators often adopt funding packages without really knowing all that is in them.

The CHIPS funding initiative wasn’t the only request the Enfield Town Board sent to Albany Wednesday night. By a similarly unanimous vote, the Town Board removed from the table and adopted without much debate a request that the New York Legislature clarify election procedures that confounded—and indeed, angered—many Enfield Fire District voters last fall when they for the first time filled all five seats on the newly-established Board of Fire Commissioners.  Because of statutory ambiguities, the Fire District’s attorney had determined that each voter could cast only one vote in that election, even though five Commissioners positions had to be filled.

Councilperson Jude Lemke, whose reservations about the proposal’s language had delayed its adoption for a month, said linguistic revisions this Councilman had made subsequent to February’s meeting had satisfied her concerns.

“In first-ever Fire District elections, you would be able to cast five votes, but for five different people,” this writer explained concerning his rewritten draft, “so it wouldn’t get into the area of cumulative voting, where you could essentially stuff the ballot box by voting five votes for one of the candidates.”

Enfield will never again navigate the perplexing legal labyrinth that last December left some Enfield Fire District voters feeling that their franchise had been denied.  The ambiguous section of law Enfield encountered only occurs the first time a fire district is formed.  But the Enfield Board chose to prod the Legislature to clarify the law in hopes that others in newly-formed districts would not face confusion similar to what its voters had encountered.

The current Enfield Board of Fire Commissioners’ first meeting, January 9th.

The Enfield Town Board’s third adopted action affects matters closer to home.  The Board passed an endorsement of Trumansburg Mayor Rordan Hart’s letter that requested Tompkins County Government fully fund the Rapid Medical Response (RMR) service.  RMR is the service that will position County vehicles and Emergency Medical Technicians at three points around Tompkins County to answer emergency calls during daytime hours weekdays when rescue squad volunteers might be unavailable.

Grant money will mostly fund the RMR this year.  But County officials have asked municipalities to share in the program’s cost for 2025.  Most recently, they’ve suggested municipalities contribute one-third of the expense.  For Enfield, they estimate the yearly cost at $10,000.

“This Town Board agrees with Mayor Hart’s rationale for full County funding as it would provide ‘the best possible solution’ to assure the RMR service’s long-term viability,” the Enfield Resolution, written by this Councilperson, stated in part.  The Resolution noted that the Board’s latest action reiterated much of the same position the Board had taken last December.

Obligating municipalities to share the cost “would be a grave mistake and would risk the viability of the program,” Mayor Hart wrote fellow town and village leaders.  “Sooner or later, likely sooner, one or more municipalities which already support their own EMS/ambulance services, or pay another agency to provide the service, will decline to contribute to the RMR Program,” the mayor continued.  Then, he warned, burdens could shift to those communities that cannot afford the service, yet desperately need it.

The Enfield Board authorized Supervisor Stephanie Redmond to sign Mayor Hart’s letter on its behalf.  Cost-sharing options will likely arise at a second County-sponsored meeting on the topic, April 11th.

In other business at the Town Board’s March 13th meeting:

  • The Town Board unanimously authorized Highway Superintendent Rollins to pursue purchase of two used dump trucks from the Town of Oswego, trucks to replace older units in his fleet that are wearing out.  Together with a planned pick-up truck purchase, Rollins’ request could draw as much as $180,000 from the Highway Reserve fund.  The Board’s majority saw the potential deal as a good bargain, though this writer, Councilperson Lynch, while favoring the transfer, voiced concerns over the draw-down of reserves, and of the request’s sudden timing.
  • Daniel Woodring, supporter of a proposed SkateGarden skateboard park on Trumansburg’s GrassRoots facilities, presented his request for Enfield to construct a skate park of its own on Town property.  The Town Board took no action, but members will investigate possible locations, including near the park-and-ride lot across from the Town Hall.
  • And Town Clerk Mary Cornell announced that scheduled renovations to the Clerk’s office will force a four-week relocation of her office beginning in early-mid April.  The Town Board voted to cordon-off a portion of the Town Board’s meeting room as a temporary Clerk’s office for the duration of the construction. Cornell also announced that her deputy, her sister, Laura Norman, will resign, effective April first, to return to full-time employment at the Tompkins County Board of Elections.