May 2021 TCCOG Report

Monthly Report

Tompkins County Council of Governments

May 12, 2021

by Councilperson Robert Lynch, Enfield TCCOG Representative

The Tompkins County Council of Governments (TCCOG) met as a whole Thursday, April 22nd.  But TCCOG’s Broadband Committee, on which I serve as Enfield’s representative, met two days earlier, on April 20th.  Of the two, the Broadband Committee meeting is probably the more important.  So let’s begin there:

You’ll recall that Enfield, like many other Tompkins County towns, contributed $5,000 in Town funds last October to a study, coordinated by staff at the Tompkins County Planning Department, to identify rural areas about the County in need of improved broadband Internet service and then work to provide broadband infrastructure to serve those communities.  Tompkins County might own the extended services in conjunction with the Southern Tier Network (STN), a regional non-profit corporation.  Staffs from a private company, Fujitsu, will contribute their expertise to the study.  STN would likely eventually string the lines and then lease them to Internet Service Providers that would bring customers their end-use content.

As outlined at the April 20th kickoff meeting, the study sets an ambitious schedule.  Fujitsu’s Broadband Engagement Leader, Blake Stovall, told us the study could be finished in as little as four months.  The data collection phase would wrap up just 15 days after that kickoff; a market assessment completed after day 45; a “high level design” study finished a month after that; an operation and maintenance plan to follow by day 100; with the study’s wrap-up as soon as 20 days thereafter.

Yes, under that timetable, the initial “data collection,” may have already been finished.  If so, I have yet to see the work product.  And just how specific the data may be has, for some of us, become a latter-day question.  Newfield Supervisor Michael Allinger and I shared our concerns this past Monday.  Lansing’s representative had told our TCCOG meeting that his own town is conducting a “pole-by-pole” appraisal of broadband availability.  Will Fujitsu’s study be that specific?  Or will it rely instead on U.S. Census Block data, notoriously inaccurate?   Enfield’s funding Resolution calls for a market analysis that identifies “unserved and underserved areas.”  Given our Resolution’s funding language, is Census data good enough?  We’ll try to get answers.

Officials made clear at our kickoff that Fujitsu’s completion of the 120-day study does not bring lines to homes immediately thereafter.  Limits of time and money could delay implementation.  “Rolling out the plan may have a phased approach,” Stovall advised us.  I suspect we’re talking years here.

I raised to the TCCOG committee the issue of confidentiality that some County planners have requested.  Planning and Sustainability Commissioner Katherine Borgella cautioned at our kickoff that with too much candor, “We might be shooting ourselves in the foot.”  I inferred that planners fear that if big, private providers, like behemoth Charter-Spectrum, get wind of where STN plans to run lines, they might string them to those destinations first, picking off STN’s most lucrative customers before STN could reach them.  I took a different stand.  “If you don’t bring the public along, you’re dooming this project to failure,” I told the committee.  So far, no one’s clamped a lid on our disclosures.

We were advised the Broadband Committee will meet monthly.  No one’s yet set our May meeting’s date.

At TCCOG’s April 22nd meeting, Darby Kiley of the County Planning Department gave a presentation on the Draft Tompkins County Harmful Algal Bloom Strategy.   Algal blooms bring bacterial contaminations of lake waters.  County planners seek to adapt an ongoing statewide action plan to Cayuga Lake. Kiley said the proximity of these blooms is dictated partially by a lake’s geometry and the prevailing winds.  Though these factors alone would dictate blooms would likely proliferate at Cayuga Lake’s southern end, Kiley said they tend to occur at the lake’s north, maybe because it’s so shallow there.

Natural contributors cannot be controlled.  But human contributors can.  And most notably, Kiley said, as much as 80 per cent of the phosphorus that contributes to algal bloom formation comes from agricultural sources.  Only eight per cent comes from sewage plants, and a mere one per cent stems from septic runoff.  These numbers could raise warning flags for farmers in that any eventual regulations could impact their activities.  Right now, planners have focused on encouraging best management practices to discourage soil runoff, including the planting of cover crops.

Similarly, the Planning Department encourages hydroseeding to slow water flow in roadside ditches so as to minimize phosphorus deposits into the lake.  Ditches can be re-engineered to minimize runoff.  The County’s even established a ditch inventory.  Identification and protection of wetlands also ties in, as does the planting of stream buffers.

TCCOG discussed New York’s new marijuana laws; members often having more questions than answers.  We did learn that each municipality before year’s end holds the opportunity to opt-out of the law.  Marijuana will only be sold in regulated dispensaries.  No such dispensaries could exist in opt-out towns; but those towns would also receive no marijuana tax revenue.  Municipalities could regulate dispensary locations within their boundaries through their local codes. 

The 13 per cent marijuana excise tax would be split with nine per cent held by the State; the remaining four per cent divided between the county and the municipality.  A municipality need not opt-into the law; only opt out, and municipalities only have until December 24th of this year to do so.  An opt-out town could opt back in, but not the other way.  Most TCCOG members predicted their municipalities would participate in the program, if only because of the financial rewards.  The Association of Towns has a tutorial on the program, we were told.

Finally, TCCOG members expressed interest in participating in the selection process for the next County Administrator.  We resolved to request TCCOG representation on the selection committee leading to the appointment.  We also thanked outgoing County Administrator Jason Molino for his assistance to municipalities.

TCCOG next meets as a group June 24th.  The Broadband Committee will presumably meet sooner.

Respectfully submitted,

Robert Lynch, Councilperson

Enfield TCCOG Representative