Tompkins County Council of Governments
for March 9, 2022
by Councilperson Robert Lynch
Enfield TCCOG Representative
The Tompkins County Council of Governments (TCCOG) met February 24th for its first meeting of 2022. TCCOG adopted no resolutions that day. Instead, members heard three detailed presentations on highly diverse subjects: Reimagining Public Safety; Countywide Emergency Services; and NYSEG’s rollout of so-called “Smart” Meters. I will briefly summarize each presentation.
Reimagining Public Safety: Tompkins County Chief Equity and Diversity Officer Deanna Carrithers provided a brief summary of Tompkins County’s efforts in collaboration with the City of Ithaca to implement elements of the Reimagining Public Safety plan for policing reform; a report submitted the State of New York nearly one year ago in response to former Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order 203. That Executive Order had directed all municipalities with police departments to identify and address systemic racial inequities. The local Reimagining process has received ample news coverage during the past two years, and I will not attempt a full review of progress to date.
I asked Ms. Carrithers whether New York has ever formally responded to Tompkins County for its exhaustive 98-page Reimagining submission of late last March. Both she and Interim County Administrator Lisa Holmes admitted that it had not. But Carrithers saw the report’s greater impact from its potential benefits locally. After hearing from “marginalized populations” and the police, she said, “we are empowered, and we cannot look away from the information that we have learned.”
As key points in her presentation to TCCOG, Ms. Carrithers stressed recent creation of a joint City-County Community Justice Center and the hiring of its Project Director, Monalita Smiley. Much of what the Diversity Officer reported was strictly process-related; setting up the Center, talking with “City and County stakeholders,” and undertaking studies. So it begged my next question. “Do you have any quantifiable substantive benefits that all this process has resulted in so far?” After a bit of hesitation and a search for clarification, Carrithers offered her best answer:
“One outcome of the plan is that it will build trust among minoritized communities of having a Community Justice Center started.”
Carrithers also talked about the unarmed officer pilot program within the Sheriff’s Office, a program not likely to begin until this summer or fall. In answer to my question as to how the Community Justice Center would benefit the average citizen of Tompkins County, Carrithers responded:
“The main thing was (sic) that we are trying to diversify our community and that people of color can be themselves being serviced appropriately in Tompkins County. And that will be a substantive outcome of the work.”
Six days after the TCCOG meeting was held, the City of Ithaca released March 2nd its plan to transform the Ithaca Police Department into a civilian-administered “Department of Community Safety.” The City’s plan was not yet public at the time of the TCCOG meeting and its proposals were not discussed.
Emergency Services: Ben Carver, Deputy Mayor of Trumansburg and a Public Policy graduate student at Cornell, presented a summary of his group’s research into the financial and staffing challenges facing rural EMS services in Tompkins County. By his own admission, Carver ‘s research dealt more with services—like in Trumansburg—that own an ambulance, rather than with rescue corps, like in Enfield, that do not. The presenter’s conclusions pointed to the State funding initiatives that Trumansburg and its mayor, Rordan Hart, have avidly promoted. One funding approach would establish state subsidies similar to the CHIPS-style funding Enfield receives to maintain its roads.
Ben Carver’s presentation made much of the decision by Slaterville Ambulance to close its doors in 2017. The study made the Slaterville closing a threshold frame of reference. The report compared response times between 2017 and 2021. Overall in Tompkins County, average response times during those four years increased from 11.2 minutes to 12.1 minutes. Enfield response times grew more; from an average 12.3 minutes to 23.1 minutes, almost double.
The analysis drew the conclusion that emergency services across Tompkins County stand interconnected; that resources were redistributed following Slaterville’s closing , and that the redistribution strained the county-wide system overall. It was a conclusion that I saw as not necessarily supported by anything other than conjecture. And one officer of the EVFC has since looked at the presentation’s PowerPoint slides and questioned some of the study’s data and analysis.
Quite clearly, the presenter took the position—disputed by some—that a rural ambulance should and must always rise to that of “a mobile Emergency Room.”
“We’ve moved beyond the days of just pulling soldiers off the battlefield or getting people to a hospital as quickly as possible in the back of a hearse,” Carver said. In his sort of model, emergency room care begins in the ambulance. Of course, the more sophisticated the ambulance, the higher its cost and the more elite and highly-trained its personnel—increasingly, its paid personnel—must be.
Enfield’s EMS challenges, I told Carver, are different. We suffer from excessive oversight and micromanagement by the New York State Health Department. State regulators insist on exhaustive training—and retraining—for volunteer EMT’s, often at inconvenient times and distant locations. As a result, I said, we have increasing difficulty recruiting. I’ve been told that even a well-trained Army medic can’t become an EMT without State training. What is being done about that, I asked Carver. His reply:
“So, I think that’s actually something that we don’t address in the report. And the reason we didn’t address it is that it almost becomes a philosophical issue because there’s fundamentally the choice [of] do we want our EMS to become medical providers? Do we want the mobile emergency room, which is the direction that we are moving, or do we want more transport focused agencies? And that wasn’t a philosophical question that we wanted to weigh in on.”
The principal conclusion I drew from the talk was that anything that Albany may consider this year to enhance rural EMS will likely provide principal benefits to ambulance corps, not to what Enfield offers.
NYSEG “Smart” Meters: Gavin Mosely, Program Manager for Government Affairs at NYSEG, and his associate, Veronica Dasher, advised us that NYSEG plans to change-out all electric meters locally soon. They’ll be replaced by so-called “Smart” meters that will report back electric usage in real time and could assist consumers in better managing their electrical consumption. NYSEG’s gas metering will also convert to “Smart” Meter devices. We were told Enfield’s change-over could take place as soon as this July; though the schedule could be delayed to begin in September. From the map shown, it appeared the changeover would affect all of Enfield except perhaps our very southwestern corner, near Connecticut Hill.
After the change-over occurs, NYSEG will have the ability to send “usage alerts” to smart phones. And for those who purchase their power from NYSEG, the new system could enable customers to receive cheaper rates when they consume off-peak.
“Smart” Meters work on the basis of two-way wireless communication. That means meter readers will no longer need to visit often, or at all. Estimated readings will end, as will the need for customers to read their meters in alternate months. Outages will get reported to speed line repairs. And also, for delinquent customers, NYSEG can terminate service remotely.
The change will offer an “energy manager,” providing an “energy tracking report” to assist customers in better managing their energy usage. There’ll also be “smart pricing options” to enable customers to receive cheaper rates when they consume off-peak. However, those who buy power from third-party ESCO’s will not access “smart pricing.”
Cayuga Heights’ TCCOG representative, Linda Woodard, who’s already participated in a “Smart” Meter pilot program, weighed in. She remarked that, for her, the energy management options have been “muddled; not easy to follow” and that smart pricing savings have been “minuscule.”
I asked the presenters why NYSEG is doing this. Gavin Mosely’s response was that the change “will provide more value for our customers” and “it’s going to allow us to run a leaner operation.” My immediate thought was that the meter reader will go the way of the Thruway toll-collector.
I also asked whether some customers might recoil at the “Big Brother” intrusive nature of this change. Mosely acknowledged, “We know we’re going to receive some pushback.”
Prior to the meter changes, NYSEG will hold community outreach meetings, including one in Enfield, perhaps this summer.
The next TCCOG meeting is scheduled for April 28th.
Robert Lynch, Councilperson
Enfield TCCOG Representative