July 2023 Reporting Archives

News Briefs:

Quick: Fire District’s First Meeting Set

(July 31): With little more than 24 hours’ notice, and with Enfield’s five new Fire Commissioners yet to be officially confirmed by the Town Board, Town Clerk Mary Cornell announced on the Town website late Monday that the Enfield Fire District will hold its first meeting, a “Planning” meeting, Tuesday night, August 1st.  It’ll begin at 6 PM at the Enfield Community Center’s Community Room, 162 Enfield Main Road.

Our Town Board on July 12th, following an executive session, announced its five expected appointees to the District’s Board of Fire Commissioners.  Yet since the Fire District lacked legal status until August first, the Town Board could not confirm its choices until August.  The Board won’t vote until August 9th.

I, your Councilperson, first got wind of the District’s impending meeting from a volunteer firefighter’s inquiry earlier Monday at the Enfield Food Pantry.  At early-afternoon, the Town Clerk’s deputy had no knowledge of the meeting.  Fire District meetings are supposed to be timely noticed, just like the Town Board’s.

“First question,” I wrote late Monday in an email to all involved, “Can the Commissioners meet at all?  Our Town Board has not officially appointed them.  I would submit that without appointment, they hold no authority to take any action, even to organize.  Any action they might take would be subject to legal challenge.”

What’s more, I added, “We are… getting a contentious matter off totally on the wrong foot.”

If the meeting’s actually held, please attend. /Robert Lynch


GENEX Barns Twisted; Toppled

(July 25):  Monday afternoon’s sudden, intense thunderstorm left nothing to save from two long, parallel cattle barns that formerly housed the “young sires” at the now-vacated Genex Breeding Cooperative complex at the southwest corner of Hayts and Sheffield Roads on Enfield’s eastern edge.

Though the damage looks like that of a tornado, 14850.com reports National Weather Service staff wave off that idea.  They say the damage more likely resulted from a “microburst,” straight-line winds that lifted the buildings from their foundations and “displaced (them) northwestward.”

How it once looked (winter 2021)

Forecasters estimate peak winds of 100 mph.

The barns housed no cattle at the time.  Genex closed its local operation in 2021.  The long sheds were open-faced, making them prone to wind damage. A single long barn now remains standing.

Making the Math Work

(July 22):  At its mid-July meeting, the Enfield Town Board authorized—and each attending Town Board member also signed—an amended Highway Department spending agreement, called the “284.”  It authorizes Highway Superintendent Barry “Buddy” Rollins to spend an additional $108,880, principally to resurface portions of two roads, Rothermich Road and West Enfield Center Road.

But before I voted and signed, I quizzed Rollins about where the extra money is coming from.  I got, at least, a partial answer.

Rollins said his original “284 Agreement,” signed by the Board in January, budgeted conservatively, projecting state aid within Albany’s major program, “CHIPS” at only last year’s levels.  But in April, the State Legislature added more money, he said.

“We went from 153 to 244 (thousand dollars) in CHIPS,” Rollins told our Board.

Yet bookkeeper-prepared budget adjustments, also authorized by the Board that night, raised CHIPS only from a budgeted $135,158 to $153,641, and also added-in $23,719 from state aid increases under two other programs.  That’s $42,202 new money.  Even if all the non-CHIPS money is added, the increase is only $77,871.  Where’s the rest coming from?  I had a hard time finding out.

“The budget is $244,000,” Rollins answered me matter-of-factly.  “I don’t know what this all means.  It doesn’t matter.  That’s the projects. That’s the approximate cost.” / RL


A Gerrymander Revisit?

(July 13):  Everything old just got new again.

Could Red Turn Blue? Our current districts (map courtesy Spectrum News)

A state appellate court Thursday ordered that New York’s Independent Redistricting Commission revisit—and likely redraw—the Congressional District lines that it attempted to map last year, only to face deadlock and then have state lawmakers, and eventually the courts, take over.

The 3-2 split decision by the Third Department of New York State Supreme Court (our Department) is seen as a victory for legislative Democrats who attempted to redraw—some say, gerrymander—House District lines last year, but were blocked by the Court of Appeals.

But the state’s Highest Court is now different, with a more liberal tilt with new Chief Judge Rowan Wilson in charge.  Wilson’s own presence could tip the scales Democrats’ way.

What does the latest ruling mean here?  Last year, Tompkins County found itself suddenly pulled away from a Syracuse-based, blue-leaning district and plunked into an eastern Southern Tier district that brought us Republican Congressman Marc Molinaro. 

Republicans say they’ll appeal the Third Department ruling.  But the Rowan Court they’d go to now is a judicial wild-card.


Enfield Work Benefits may expand

(July 13):  An eight-month campaign by this Councilperson, Robert Lynch, to secure health insurance benefits for the Enfield Town Clerk may finally bear fruit next January.  And Enfield’s Town Supervisor and Code Enforcement Officer may reap the benefits as well.

Town bookkeeper Blixy Taetzsch briefed the Town Board and the public Wednesday night on the Town Personnel Committee’s recommended benefit changes for 2024.  The committee, of which Supervisor Stephanie Redmond, Councilperson Jude Lemke, and key Town administrators are members, calls for awarding health and disability eligibility coverage to all full-time employees and, for the first time, part-time employees and elected officials working 20 or more hours per week.

The change would bring the Town Clerk, Supervisor, and Codes Officer into the benefit pool. The Town would pay 100% of individual health premiums, 80% of family share health plan premiums.

Highway Superintendent Barry “Buddy” Rollins has offered an alternative that would treat part-timers slightly less generously.  An opt-out health insurance stipend of $500 would apply under some circumstances.

Taetzsch projects that the new coverage would cost taxpayers $5,000-$7,500 annually.  The Town Board plans to act on the proposal August 9th.


Leaping over the unknown

But what is the number?

(July 13):  Following a quiet, though legally-mandated, Public Hearing, one at which only a single resident spoke, the Enfield Town Board Wednesday authorized a local law—an annual ritual—to increase its tax levy in next year’s budget beyond the so-called “Tax Cap” Albany accountants set.

Problem is: We don’t yet know what the Tax Cap will be.  And until Albany tells us—maybe by late-summer—we haven’t a clue.

Our vote was three-to-one (James Ricks was excused.)  I voted against exceeding the cap.  In part, I first wanted to learn the cap’s number.  The Board’s majority chose not to wait.

But more importantly, I opposed the override on principle.  I said I’d given the Board a “roadmap” just two weeks earlier that would contain the local levy.  I’d urged it to reclaim the $949,000 in Sales Tax revenue that Enfield lets Tompkins County apply to cut its own tax rate.  The Board had rejected the change, 2-2.

One final quirk:  State law requires a “supermajority” of 60 per cent to override the tax cap.  But with a 5-person Town Board, any majority vote has to reach 60 per cent.  Go figure.  I guess we were legal. / RL


Maybe a Fare-Free Holiday?

(July 10):  Some campus-based activists have called for Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit (TCAT) to go fare-free, permanently.

This isn’t it.  But at TCAT’s bimonthly Riders Advisory and Accessibility Committee meeting Monday, Patty Poist, the agency’s Manager of Communications and Marketing, said a summertime transition to new, upgraded fare boxes could warrant a fare-collection hiatus.

“There’ll probably have to be a grace period when we’ll have to go fare-free,” Poist told the Ridership Committee.

The reason is a software mismatch.  TCAT expects Cornell’s Cards, which charge fares to the University when students ride, will still work with the new boxes.  But the T-Cards that the rest of us use likely will not.  You’ll need a fresh card.  And during the transition, you may not know whether your bus takes the old card or the new one.  And of course, there’ll be refund and reimbursement issues.

Poist and the TCAT’s General Manager promised a major public relations rollout soon to let us know what’s planned and when any fare-free holiday might begin.


Sigler: Home Rule, Really?

Legislator Mike Sigler

(July 9):  Kudos to Lansing Tompkins County legislator Mike Sigler for coming to the defense of home rule in upstate New York.

In his latest column in Tompkins Weekly, Sigler specifically cites the last-minute effort this session by the Democrat-controlled New York State Legislature to change the years for local elections, placing races like Enfield’s at the bottom of a cluttered ballot in gubernatorial or presidential election years. https://www.tompkinsweekly.com/articles/erosion-of-the-home-rule/

Here’s hoping Governor Hochul vetoes this one bad bill.  And here’s also hoping Albany lawmakers pay greater concern to local preferences, like ours. / RL


More Roads; More Money

(July 8):  In an amended funding request dated June 12th and emailed to the Town Board July 5th, Enfield Town Highway Superintendent Barry “Buddy” Rollins has revised his Department’s  highway improvement project list, Rollins listing portions of West Enfield Center and Rothermich Roads for requested upgrades.

Rollins still expects to spend $240,000 to resurface the uphill stretch of Bostwick Road between Route 327 and Applegate Road, an ongoing project funded by the Town Board in January.

But now, Rollins also plans to add “Cold Mix Paving” to Rothermich Road between West Enfield Center and Mecklenburg Roads, and the same treatment for West Enfield Center Road between Rothermich and Black Oak Road.  Rollins prices each additional project at $80,000.

Considering other proposed adjustments, the Superintendent proposes Enfield road repairs this year rise by more than $100,000, to a total $434,000.  Rollins so-called “284 Agreement” did not say where the additional funds would come from.

Rollins may explain when the Town Board weighs his request Wednesday, July 12th Town Board members must sign-off on the changes.


From Starbucks to Enfield?

(July 8):  I note with interest that The Ithaca Voice reports that an Administrative Law Judge for the National Labor Relations Board issued a decision July 5th ordering Starbucks to reopen its Collegetown barista, stating the coffee giant violated federal labor law, in part, by closing its earlier-unionized College Avenue store and firing its workforce.


It remains very much in doubt whether the NLRB can enforce its words in court.

The Enfield connection?  Recently I attempted to insert into our revised Solar Law a provision that would require solar operators who take farmland out of production to remain farming—or at least, mowing—the 40 per cent of the lot the law says they must keep free from solar panels.

Legal minds told me we could not do that.  To require continued farming is a prohibited “Taking” under the Constitution.  In effect, you cannot dictate how someone treats his land, aside from banning prohibited activities.

How is Starbucks any different?  Aren’t you also compelling a specific use of land?  I’m eager to see how this turns out. / R. Lynch


Brock Stays in; Willis too

(July 5):  There will be a General Election battle between centrist and progressive in a high-profile contest for First Ward Alderperson in the City of Ithaca, as well as for the lesser-known race for Enfield Highway Superintendent.

Cynthia Brock (campaign photo)

A Tompkins County Board of Elections spokesperson Wednesday reported that neither Ithaca Alderperson Cynthia Brock nor Enfield Highway challenger Chris Willis had withdrawn independent line candidacies by the Board’s June 30 deadline, meaning each candidate after losing his or her respective party primaries, will soldier on to the November election.

Brock, a 12-year Common Council incumbent, lost to a political newcomer, Solidarity Slate-endorsed progressive Kayla Matos, in the June 27th Democratic Primary.  She lost by double-digits (57% – 43%, according to unofficial tallies).  Brock had said last week she would “take a few days” to decide whether to pursue her back-up independent candidacy into the fall.  By her refusal to withdraw, she will.

Likewise, in Enfield, even though Highway Superintendent candidate Chris Willis lost to incumbent Barry “Buddy” Rollins badly in the Republican Primary (48 votes to 17, amidst a light turnout), Willis has not pulled out, thereby giving his own independent candidacy continued life.  (Maybe Rollins pulled up his many yard signs too soon.)


Caroline Democracy

(July 1):  Zoning was the hot topic in Caroline’s Town Democratic Primary last week.  And at least for the moment, the pro-zoning forces prevailed, media reports say.

Winner: Mark Witmer

Incumbent Democratic Supervisor Mark Witmer secured the Democrat’s nomination for re-election, 67% to 33% over intra-party challenger Tonya Van Camp.  Similarly, incumbent Councilpersons Kate Kelley-Mackenzie and Tim Murray won party re-nomination.  We’re told the incumbents are viewed as pro-zoning; the challengers, anti-zoning.

But wait, it’s not over.  Van Camp and losing Councilperson candidates Megan Slatoff-Burke and Kathryn Mix have teamed up and formed a third-party, “Connecting Caroline,” which keeps them all on the ballot until November.

Remember, Republicans and Independents can’t vote in Democratic Primaries.  And Republicans are generally more conservative—and anti-zoning—than those from the party of FDR.  So the tables could turn in the General Election.

One refreshing statistic:  Caroline’s Democratic Primary turned out as many as 735 voters, more than six times the number we in Enfield could muster for our Democratic Primary.  Good for them.  Shame on us. / RL