November 2021 TCCOG Report

Monthly Report

Tompkins County Council of Governments

for November 10, 2021

by Councilperson Robert Lynch

Enfield TCCOG Representative

The Tompkins County Council of Governments (TCCOG) met October 28th.  Unlike in recent months, broadband Internet service did not dominate the discussion.  The meeting’s only action item was rather routine and resembled a Resolution on our Town Board’s own agenda tonight.  TCCOG urged Governor Hochul to sign legislation, already adopted by both houses of the New York Legislature, to establish the New York State Rural Ambulance Task Force.

Katie Hallas of the Tompkins County Planning Department presented an extended update on Tompkins Food Future, an effort, previously discussed and shared on our Town of Enfield website, toward developing a Tompkins Community System Plan, one that aims at improved coordination in everything from local food production and distribution to environmentally-responsible disposal of food scraps.

Among the findings Ms. Hallas shared was that in the opinions of the project’s leaders, “Enfield is a food insecurity hot spot,” along with Groton, and surprisingly, Trumansburg.  County-wide, 11.6 per cent of the overall population and 13.3 per cent of children are food insecure.  Perhaps the successful Enfield Food Pantry’s prominence contributed to the designation.  The average meal in Tompkins County is, the study has shown, 17 per cent more costly than the national average.

“We can’t really address food insecurity in a vacuum,” said Hallas, noting that racial and cultural disparities often factor into who’s food insecure and who is not.  Another comment by Hallas I found both unexpected and quite honestly, a bit disturbing.  According to Hallas, “Even those who run food pantries said things like, ‘We wish we didn’t have to do this.  We want people to have the dignity of going to the store and purchasing the food they want for themselves and their family.’”  As a weekly volunteer at the Enfield Food Pantry, I do not sense that administrative attitude at Enfield’s facility. Nobody should feel patronizing our food pantry compromises one’s dignity.

Groton Supervisor Don Scheffler took the opportunity to again raise his pet peeve.   He said that solar farms are consuming prime farmland.  “I don’t think local agriculture and solar panels go together,” Scheffler said.  TCCOG members acknowledged that solar farm placement is most often dictated by the adequacy of the power grid in a particular area, not the weakness of the soil for growing crops. In fact, Danby’s Joel Gagnon noted, “the fallow land is often where the interconnections are not there.”  As a result, he said, solar panels often go up on prime farmland.  Gagnon cited Newfield and his own Town of Danby where land might be suited for solar, but “interconnections are often absent.”

In frustration, Scheffler suggested we just “put dirt on the solar panels and grow tomatoes on them.” Obviously, the Groton Supervisor is no fan of solar farms.

Perhaps the October meeting’s most significant discussion concerned potential institution of countywide code enforcement—purportedly, at least for now, on a voluntary municipal basis.

The Tompkins County Legislature in October added into its proposed budget a $75,000 appropriation to fund a study into county-wide enforcement of building codes, the consultant’s study using Tioga County as a model.  Just as Tompkins County consolidated property assessments at the county level in 1968-1970, a county department would be established to handle enforcement.   However, unlike assessment, and in answer to my direct question, the plan purportedly envisions voluntary, not mandatory town participation.

“The County’s not approaching this with a preconceived notion that we want to do ‘x’, ‘y’, or ‘z’,” said legislator Martha Robertson, who’s leading the drive for the consolidation study.  “The County is proposing this as let’s take a look at this,” she said.

I’d mentioned how some constituents who own properties in both Enfield and the Town of Ithaca have complained to me about Ithaca’s rigid enforcement.  Those constituents prefer hometown enforcement, I told the meeting.  At least one other municipal representative, Lansing Village Trustee Ronny Hardaway, agreed with me.  Hardaway said he’d support the program only if municipalities were accorded an “opt-in” or “opt-out” provision.  If countywide code enforcement comes to pass, it will likely be several years off, we were advised.

A second County initiative discussed at October’s meeting was for County government to assume responsibility for standardizing address assignments.  Toward that effort, County Information Technology Services Director Greg Potter sought TCCOG input.  John Halaychik, County Communications Center Manager, advised us that the conversion from landline to cell phone technology has complicated house location for first responders and dispatchers.  When someone calls for help on a mobile phone and says they are on “Main Street,” police, fire, and ambulance services have difficulty identifying to which community’s “Main Street” they should respond.  The same might apply to Enfield’s Cole Grove Road, near me, compared to the other “Colegrove Road” in Ulysses.

But the standardization Potter envisions faces limitation.  It would be forward-looking, not backward.  Again, as officials had said when they first discussed their initiative several meetings ago, no one plans to re-name existing roads or renumber existing addresses.  So the standardization plan faces severe constraints.    Officials just don’t want the future to worsen.  Interestingly, emergency service planners also like the fact that when a road divides municipalities, the numbers on one side often bear no similarity to those on the other.  (Think Iradell and Buck Hill Roads.)  That way, a 911 dispatcher can ascertain which municipality’s emergency services to dispatch to an address.  Having common numbering at a county line, is, said Halaychik, “a dangerous scenario to have.”  Adjacent counties often lack another’s detailed street data, and they might end up sending personnel to an incorrect address.

Potter said the change-over to county assumption of address numbering remains in development.   “We could seek authorization for the County to take over address management completely,” Potter said, “But we’re not there yet.”

County officials suggested they remain somewhat short of seeking municipal consent to County assumption of house numbering, but that municipal boards could at least discuss the issue individually.  One could infer the County still has much work to do before assuming the responsibility.

Respectfully submitted,

Robert Lynch, Councilperson

Enfield TCCOG Representative