May 2023 Reporting Archives

May News Briefs:

GOP: Hold Enfield ARPA Hostage:

(May 12):  To my knowledge, nobody, not even The New York Times, has asked this.  But when I did Wednesday night at the Enfield Town Board, Supervisor Stephanie Redmond’s widened eyes revealed her surprise.

During a routine annual report by our Town’s auditors, I asked audit partner Duane Shoen whether when House Republicans, in federal debt ceiling talks, propose canceling unspent COVID Relief funds, if they mean clawing back American Rescue Plan awards, including  nearly $350,000 given the Town of Enfield.

“Absolutely yes,” Shoen quickly answered.  “Congress is definitely looking at that ARPA money.”  If the money’s “uncommitted,” he said, Republicans may regard it as fair game.  “It’s still sitting in the bank,” Shoen observed. “If that money remains uncommitted, it’s definitely possible, depending on how those negotiations work out, that there may be some effort to claw some of that back.”

Would it be wise “that we spend that money as soon as we possibly can?” I asked.

“Yes,” Shoen answered.  “I’m going to keep my fingers crossed and say they’re at least going to give you to the end of 2023 to spend it.  And certainly if they do decide to claw it back, I’d certainly take that opportunity, if you can, rather than have to return it,” he recommended.

For the record, the Biden Administration opposes tampering with COVID relief funds.  But talks to avoid default remain at impasse. / RL


Bad Building Day:

(May 11):  Tompkins County Director of Facilities Arel LeMaro had disappointment for anyone hoping to save and repurpose either the Key Bank Building on Tioga and Buffalo Street or the historic “Red House” a block down the street, both owned by County Government and both likely candidates for demolition.

LeMaro told the County Legislature’s Facilities and Infrastructure Committee Thursday that it would take millions—more millions than first thought—to retrofit both structures.  His grim prognosis gives increased impetus to demolishing the bank building and the former law office next to it and use the site for a $20-40 Million Center of Government.

LeMaro predicted it would cost more than $4.9 Million to renovate the bank building, upwards of $2.25 Million to make the Red House fit for county offices.  Replacing the rusting steel window system on the 1960’s-era Key Bank would cost $1 Million alone. “It’s an energy guzzler,” LeMaro told the committee.

“I don’t think the County should buy any more buildings,” Newfield legislator Randy Brown quipped.  “We really know how to pick ‘em,” committee colleague Greg Mezey replied.

Committee Chair Mike Lane reminded everyone Tompkins County bought the buildings primarily for the land  they sit on.  “Then I think what we should go forward with is the land, instead of these buildings,” Mezey concluded.  “Because we’re essentially like halfway to the down payment” on a new building, he said.


Town Board takes a “Breezy” Pass

(May 10):  Though given ample opportunity to do so, the Enfield Town Board Wednesday declined to push back on its Planning Board’s decision of a week earlier to approve the environmental acceptability of the proposed, controversial, Breezy Meadows 33-lot subdivision spanning each side of Tucker Road.

Planning Board Chair Dan Walker faced 40 minutes of questioning by Councilperson Robert Lynch (this writer)  over Lynch’s concerns that New York Land and Lakes’ 337-acre subdivision may  endanger neighborhood water well supplies, and that Walker’s Board should have done more to protect them.

Town Board members expressed little interest in weighing in, Supervisor Stephanie Redmond asserting that a better approach is for the Town to tighten site plan laws affecting future developments.

Lynch offered to introduce a Resolution criticizing the Planning Board’s May third action.  The three other Town Board members attending begged off, and Lynch declined to put it onto the floor.

The Resolution would have stated the Town Board’s disagreement with the planners’ Negative Determination of Environmental Significance and would have sought to condition Breezy Meadow’s final approval on “a professionally-prepared, sufficiently-rigorous hydrological study… to document the absence of significant adverse impact on the water well resources.”

The Enfield Planning Board could grant Breezy Meadows final approval June 7th.


Fire Hearing Set: Sentiment Clear

(May 10): Unless sentiments change unexpectedly, expect the Enfield Volunteer Fire Company to fall under new oversight soon.

By a pair of 4-0 votes, the Enfield Town Board Wednesday set a pair of legally-required Public Hearings for June 14th.  They’d take comment on creation of a “Fire District” to replace the “Fire Protection District” under which the EVFC provides Enfield its services.  Much more than a name change, the conversion would take oversight away from the Town Board and put it into the hands of a separately-elected Board of Fire Commissioners.

Though one Town Board member remained uncommitted, three others—a majority—voiced support for the idea.  Fire Company President Dennis Hubbell and Company Secretary Ellen Woods also expressed support.

Councilperson Robert Lynch (this writer) supported scheduling the hearings, but objected to the scheduling resolution’s text that implied that the Board has already agreed that the change stands “in the public interest.”  Lynch said he wants to hear testimony first before making up his mind, cautioning he’s found public support that’s only “lukewarm,” but limited opposition that’s “vocal” and “passionate.”


Let’s Have a Debate:

(May 5): Enfield Democrats Friday began the discussions on holding a candidate forum (or some other name comparable to “debate”) prior to the June 27th Democratic Primary for Enfield Town offices.

As most know, the two Town Councilpersons positions that James Ricks and I hold will be subject to a primary, Melissa Millspaugh having successfully petitioned to compete for a Councilperson’s position.  No other offices on the Democratic side will have primaries.

The last time we had a Town Primary was 2019, when more offices had opposing candidates. I hope Enfield will host a candidate forum.  As details shake out, I will duly inform.

But as I wrote Democratic leaders today, “Democracy works when voters are informed.”


A Moving Tax Target:

(May 5):  Tuesday night, the Tompkins County Legislature adopted a “2024 Financial Goal,” hurriedly pushed onto the table by Budget Committee Chair Deborah Dawson.  It targeted a 5.53 per cent increase in next year’s Tompkins County tax levy.  Some saw it as way premature, resolved a full six months before the budget’s adoption, and based on state funding assumptions made before the State Budget had been hammered out.  Legislators Mike Sigler and Enfield-Newfield’s Randy Brown opposed it.

Legislator Dawson

They had good reason.  By Thursday morning, in a Zoom conference with municipal officials, County Administrator Lisa Holmes had already downscaled the projections.  Holmes’ new math placed the levy increase somewhere around 3.62 per cent.  It could drop lower—even to zero—before next November.  Lawmakers hate raising taxes.

“I urge you to resist the temptation to back off and lower the levy goal just in case things don’t turn out as miserably as we might expect it,” Dawson urged legislators Tuesday.

“I guess I’m an optimist,” Randy Brown said.  “And I believe that our revenues are good and will continue to increase, and our fund balances are more than significant.”  And of the projected 5.5% tax hike Brown added, “I think anything close to this increase would be ridiculous and not right to do.”

A story, posted on this website, gives details.


Lifeline to Local Culture:

(May 5):  In a few respects—but only now in retrospect—the dark days of our rebounding from the closures of COVID-19 weren’t as dark as first thought.  In fact, local tourism bounced back incredibly fast.  And as a result, a windfall in Hotel Room Tax Revenue has flowed into Tompkins County coffers, far exceeding the conservative estimates earlier made by the County’s Tourism Program.

Advocate: Brett Bossard

This week, the Tompkins County Legislature—at the strong urging of local arts and cultural groups—adjusted the budget to reallocate more than $1.4 Million in windfall receipts.  Numerous arts organization leaders addressed the Legislature in late-April when the reallocation was first proposed.  Brett Brossard, Chair of the Strategic Tourism Planning Board, spoke to the transfer’s favor May 2, when lawmakers finally took action.

A key provision involved $685,000 moved to fund Arts and Cultural Organizational Development Grants that will help stabilize vulnerable organizations.” Several of those organizations, according to the Resolution, “are facing severe financial difficulty.”  Indeed at the earlier meeting, notables in the local arts community said the pandemic has left them on the brink of closing.  This new money, they said, would help.


Legislature OK’s New TCRF Funding:

(May 2):  Final approval came quickly and without controversy Tuesday as the Tompkins County Legislature awarded $510,000 in Tompkins Community Recovery Funds to 14 agencies, including to the Town of Enfield, the Town’s more than $26,000 assigned to purchase new Highway Department radios.

“Looking at the list, I think we’ve done a really good job,” Legislature Chair Shawna Black commented.

The $510,000 came from funds originally set aside for Newfield’s Second Wind Cottages, but then repurposed when Second Wind dropped its plan for additional housing for the homeless, amid community resistance.

But the funding reassignment work might not be over.  And if it’s not, the Enfield Voluntary Fire Company could benefit.  Khuba International’s cooperative farm in Danby is among the newly-funded applicants.  And Khuba has a problem similar to Second Wind’s.  In Khuba’s case, the project right now fails to comply with the Danby zoning law, and two Danby Town Board members have voiced concerns.

“I’m ambivalent on this one,” legislator Rich John said Tuesday, though he still supported Khuba’s $74,000 award.  “I do want to include the message to the Town Board that this is their decision, and they’re supposed to take their zoning seriously.”

The Enfield Fire Company barely lost out in the latest Recovery Fund scoring.  And if Khuba were to drop out, as Second Wind did earlier, EVFC could have a shot at capturing their money.

[A longer story on this vote is now posted.]


Alan Teeter Steps Back:

(May 1):  The retirement of Alan Teeter as Newfield’s Codes Officer, effective June 2, was acknowledged by the Newfield Town Board at its meeting April 27.  Teeter’s Newfield decision will not affect his continued service as Code Enforcement Officer for Enfield, Teeter confirmed Monday.

Newfield Board members explained—and the retiree confirms— that Teeter wants to step back a bit; to devote greater  attention to his Enfield job, his beef farm, and his family.

Though Newfield has a higher population, it has employed Teeter for fewer hours than has Enfield.  Newfield officials indicate they’ve retained Teeter generally 10-12 hours per week at a $24 hourly compensation.  Both Teeter and Newfield Town Board members acknowledge the job now requires an increased commitment.  And discussion Thursday focused on how much time should be expected of a new appointee.

Supervisor Michael Allinger suggested that expanding the Codes Officer’s hours could lead to better enforcement of junk laws.  But Town Bookkeeper Blixy Taetzsch cautioned that if it’s expanded beyond 20 hours per week, civil service law would subject the job to competitive testing.  And at 30 hours or more, Town policy would require paying benefits.

At Allinger’s recommendation, the Board agreed to post the position at its current rate, and for now keep it at less than half-time. “Maybe somebody has a part-time position that needs some hours?” Councilperson Heather McCarty said.  Tompkins County officials have raised intermunicipal job-sharing has a potential solution to the code enforcement employment shortage.

Though the Newfield Board hopes to make a hiring decision in late-May, Teeter said Monday, “I have agreed to stay on until they have a replacement that is trained and also certified to do the position which may take a while.”


Committee Backs Funding List:

It “worked out.” Randy Brown with legislator Susan Currie

(May 1):  With minimal discussion and no revisions, an Advisory Committee of the County Legislature Monday morning unanimously endorsed the funding of 14 community applicants seeking second-round support under Tompkins County’s Community Recovery Fund. The recommendation goes before the full County Legislature Tuesday.  It would provide $26,592 to buy new radios for the Enfield Highway Department, but support for no other Enfield applicant.

“I want to thank how the process worked out,” Enfield/Newfield legislator Randy Brown, an Advisory Committee member, commented. “It was good to see a wide range of programs funded, as well as numerous rural areas.”

No committee member saw need to disturb its funding spreadsheet, the product of scoring by all 14 members of the Legislature, a change from past practice.

(A more detailed report is now posted on this story.)