September 2023 Reporting Archives

News Briefs:

Tompkins EMS Plan Draws Fire

(Sept. 29):  Tompkins County Emergency Services Coordinator Joe Milliman had a very tough sell Thursday as he promoted at a Public Hearing in Newfield County Government’s proposed three-unit “Flycar” system to speed emergency response.

Joe Milliman, zooming in.

Every comment was critical during the 40-minute hearing and the 20-minute Town Board discussion thereafter.  And what drives much of the new-found resistance is the revelation that County Government will ask local towns to pick up an unspecified share of the cost.

“I’m not opposed to the idea, but if we were voting on something tonight, I’d vote no,” Newfield Councilperson Christine Seamon said emphatically.

“This is a duplication of services,” said one commenter, a person likely connected with the Newfield Fire Company.  “We already have a vehicle.  We already have supplies.  What we don’t have is salaries,” Milliman was told.

The coordinator could not say what individual municipalities would be charged, another sign of a very botched rollout.  In fact, to some, it may have smelled like a New York-style unfunded mandate.

Tompkins County’s Draft Shared Services Plan required Milliman’s presentation.   The plan proceeds to the County Legislature October 3 for another hearing.

“It’s awful hard to move forward without a clue as to what this is going to cost,” Newfield Supervisor Michael Allinger observed.  “You haven’t sold me,” another Town Board member said.


Budget Jitters in Newfield

(Sept. 29):  Newfield prides itself in seldom, if ever, exceeding New York’s tax cap with its budget.  This coming year, however, could be the exception.

“This is not going to be an easy year,” Town Bookkeeper Blixy Taetzsch warned Town Board members Thursday as she handed them a Tentative Budget that as it stands now would raise the tax levy by over six per cent.

The unforgiving New York State tax cap—effectively toothless, but psychologically overpowering—pegs inflation at only two per cent, whereas real inflation this year is “closer to seven percent,” Taetzsch said.  A “growth factor” adjusts Newfield’s cap upward to 2.6 per cent, yet still four percentage points below where Town costs are expected to go.

“There might be some areas where we could look to trimming back,” the bookkeeper suggested.

The Newfield Town Board did not dwell on the budget Thursday.  Nor did it immediately make the document public.  That’s because some personnel line items remain subject to labor negotiations.  The Board will address those issues in closed session during the first week in October.


Trick or Treat: Vote Snapped to Halloween

(Sept. 27): It’s a stunning surprise, since I never recall the date mentioned at the Monday meeting:  The Enfield Board of Fire Commissioners Wednesday moved up to October 31 the referendum date for a pair of Resolutions that would authorize purchase from the Enfield Fire Company, and the subsequent bonding, of  two fire trucks.  The bonding total hits $1.05 Million.

A Resolution adopted by the Fire Commissioners September 25th only authorized proceeding with bonding.  It never set a date, leading any observer to believe that the resolutions would face voters December 12th, the date when the Commissioners, themselves, will be elected.

Exactly who authorized this transparently “Snap Election”—and under what authority—remains unclear at this writing. 

“It was my impression at the meeting that the two votes were to be held concurrently; for the Commissioners and for bonding,” I wrote the Commissioners and Town Clerk this date.  “Their dates cannot be changed on someone’s whim.  I know you commissioners had no legal guidance that night.  But specificity is demanded in things like this.”

“Enfield voters will not react well to this.” I cautioned. .“I know I don’t. The time is too short.  They feel something’s being pulled over on them.  On Halloween, at that.” / RL


Budget Drafted; Fire Bonding Endorsed

Enfield’s Board of Fire Commissioners, Sept. 25

(Posted Sept. 26; Revised Oct. 1):  Consuming most of its nearly three-hour meeting Monday, the newly-established Enfield Board of Fire Commissioners handed up a tentative $389,736 Budget for 2024 (a number slightly higher than stated in an earlier report).  Compared with the 2023 Budget, the plan would only raise spending 3.2 per cent.

But that spending total comes with a big caveat.  Commissioners also Monday unanimously endorsed holding a referendum on bonding more than $1,000,000 in unpaid fire apparatus, including, most notably, that newly-bought $825,000 pumper engine.  Without bonding, Commissioners said, financing costs on the new truck could add $112,000 to next year’s budget.  Bonding would spread the truck’s 7-year loan payments out to as long as 20 years.

“I don’t see a way to get from here to there without bonding,” Commissioners’ Chair Jim Mathews told the Board.  Otherwise, he said, the only options are “defaulting on truck payments, some kind of bridging loan, or raising taxes, or all three.”  Mathews found none of those choices “palatable.”

The public gets no vote on the Fire Budget, but it would vote on the bonding.  Commissioners must finalize their spending plan by November 4.


Former TC3 President Montague Passes

Dr. Orinthia Montague (courtesy TC3)

(Sept. 25):  Two years after her departure locally, Tompkins Cortland Community College’s fourth president, and its first president of color, has passed.

Tompkins Cortland Community College announced Friday the death of Dr. Orinthia Montague, who joined TC3 in 2017 after serving a community college in Minnesota in several capacities. Well liked locally during her four-year tenure at TC3, Montague left in 2021 to become president of Volunteer State Community College in Tennessee, where she served until her death.

“Dr. Montague had a tremendous impact on our college, serving at a time of great transition and challenge including throughout much of the COVID pandemic,” current TC3 president Amy Kremenek said in a statement.  “It is evident that her commitment to students and their success was paramount throughout her tenure at TC3.”


Happy Harvest Festival

(Sept. 23):  Enfield celebrated community Saturday.

Even though low clouds and occasional light drizzle prevented the (surprise) return of the legendary ping-pong ball drop, the Enfield Harvest Festival, an annual community celebration, brought  us together for four hours of fun, food, and reconnecting this weekend.

I may have seen you in the serving line for the chicken barbecue.  We served perhaps 200 dinners.  There were the vendors’ tables (both inside and under the tent), music, fire truck displays, and all types of fall-type fun.

Thanks to Cortney, Vera, Colleen, Debbie, and all those of the Enfield Community Council who made this happen.  (And thanks, too, to the EVFC for lending us their barbecue pit.)

See you again soon. / RL


Mike Got It Right

Mike Sigler

(Sept. 22):  Tuesday night, the Tompkins County Legislature, congratulating itself, split over $722,000 in Opioid Settlement money among eight community organizations.  Some of them, such as Finger Lakes ReUse ($115,375) and the Ithaca United Soccer Club ($7,000) are, at best, only peripherally connected to addiction recovery.

While he voted for the distributions, Lansing legislator Mike Sigler had wished for more:

“I don’t want people to think that I’m against any of these organizations,” Sigler said.  But “I look at all the folks getting money, and none of it goes toward actual treatment.”

Sigler continued:  “The basic premise was that these opioid companies lured people into just take opioids, and then they got addicted.  And it would just seem to me that if that’s what the settlement was about, shouldn’t the settlement money go toward getting people off of opioids? Shouldn’t it go to actual treatment?”

The Lansing Republican said he knows people who’ve faced addiction.  “I’ve taken somebody to a 30-day detox, and it’s $10 Grand cash just to walk in the door.”  If the settlement money had been spent on treatment, Sigler maintained, 72 people could have received treatment.

Sigler’s right, of course.  And he took the moment to make another point:  “We have a Detox Center (here) that’s struggling to open because, frankly, they’re not paying nurses enough money to work there.”

Sigler challenged the County Legislature “to get that detox up and running so that we have some place to take people.” / RL


Tompkins Re-muddle II

(Sept. 21):  For the second time in recent weeks, Tompkins County lawmakers have moved to do what some would say defiles their ornate, historically-conscious, legislative chambers.

Seats now; an office maybe soon.

Back in August, the Legislature voted to plop video monitors about the chambers to replace the overhead screens above them that descend only when needed.  Dryden’s Mike Lane predicted it would make the place look like a “sports bar.”

Now, a legislative committee recommended on Thursday that a large part of the chamber’s eastern visitors’ gallery be replaced by an office for a new deputy legislative clerk.

“It will reduce the seating we have for the public considerably,” Lane observed.  Yet he supported the office’s construction.  Only Newfield’s Randy Brown voted against it.

“The place is packed over there often,” Brown said, pointing to the gallery.  “We’re condensing space,” he said.  “I’d like to see more people come, not less.” / RL


Wrecking Ball this Fall?

(Sept. 21): Marching full speed ahead toward a new Downtown Center of Government, Tompkins County legislators may authorize the razing of the former Key Bank Building and the law office next to it as soon as mid-October.

Dawson: Do we need a site plan and other stuff?

“We need to demolish the Key Bank Building,” Chair Mike Lane told his Facilities and Infrastructure Committee Thursday.  With the County Legislature committing earlier this month to move forward with the $40 Million office building, Lane saw no need to wait, lest the old buildings just lie vacant and deteriorate.

Lane directed the County Administrator to prepare resolutions authorizing deconstruction in time for his committee’s October 19th meeting.

But there’s a problem.  Due to the buildings’ proximity to the DeWitt Park Historic District, Ithaca City regulations may not permit the old buildings to come down before there’s a firm commitment—maybe even architectural drawings—for their replacement structure.

“The real question seems to be how definitive those plans have to be,” committee member Deborah Dawson remarked.  “Is it enough for us to say, yes, we’re going to build a Center of Government, or do we have to have like a site plan and that other stuff?”

Before acting, the committee will seek legal advice. / RL


Brown to Chair Redux Building Committee

(Sept 20):  If anyone questioned whether the Tompkins County Legislature’s Chair views a $40 Million Downtown Office Building as anything but a done deal, Shawna Black’s decision Tuesday night removed all doubt.

Enfield-Newfield legislator Randy Brown

Déjà vu. Revived from the ashes of history, Black re-created a Downtown Facilities Special Committee and named Newfield-Enfield legislator Randy Brown as its new Chair.

An earlier Downtown Facilities Committee, with another Newfield legislator, now-retired Dave McKenna, heading it, oversaw progress toward downtown offices until that earlier committee was disbanded in January of last year.  But with the Legislature voting September 5th to proceed with planning a Center of Government downtown, Black saw fit Tuesday to name the seven-member special committee, with its membership a full half of the Legislature.

“The committee will oversee process moving forward with the necessary planning that includes  the preparation and review of architectural, engineering, schematic and design documents for the construction of our Center of Government building in the 300 block of North Tioga Street,” Black announced.  The committee will also review the County’s current space needs and “determine the options for departmental placement” downtown, including in the new building.

Notably excluded from the committee was Groton’s Lee Shurtleff, a known critic of the project.  And Black’s action may also diminish the influence of Facilities and Infrastructure Chair Mike Lane, who likewise voted this month against moving the project forward.  Lane will, however, sit as a member of the new committee.


Tompkins County Attorney Troy Resigns

(Sept. 18):  William J. Troy III, Tompkins County Attorney since November 2021, resigned earlier this month, multiple County Government sources confirmed Monday.  No reason was given for his unexpected departure.

Troy’s resignation was “pretty low key,” one legislative source acknowledged.  Word of Troy’s decision only surfaced after of a posted—yet still unscripted—member-filed Resolution appeared on the County Legislature September 19th agenda.  That Resolution calls for the Legislature to appropriate money to pay for a “County Attorney Search.”

Elevated from Deputy Attorney to County Attorney nearly two years ago, Bill Troy’s most challenging assignment addressed the ethics allegations brought against several Ithaca City officials in connection with the Reimagining Public Safety initiative.

Troy was absent from the Legislature’s last meeting, September 5thHolly Mosher, Troy’s deputy, will serve as Acting County Attorney until the Legislature chooses a permanent replacement. / RL


Another School Holiday… Mandated

The bill-signing; another day not to learn.

(Sept. 16):  How did this one slip past us?  There’s now yet another school holiday.

With great fanfare in some circles, but barely a mention elsewhere, Gov. Kathy Hochul Sept. 9th signed quietly-passed legislation that makes the mid-winter Lunar New Year a mandated day off from school.  Quite transparently, it’s an effort to please (pander to?) the Asian-American community.

Mind you, I’m the first to recognize Asians as the underappreciated, unrecognized “silent minority” in this community.  Largely due to their student presence on campus, Asians/Pacific Islanders comprise more than twice the number of African-Americans in Tompkins County (10.3%, compared to 4.6%).  Yet Reimagining Public Safety barely made mention of their needs.

But mandating another school day off exemplifies the Albany political machine’s heavy-handedness.  First, it’s only a matter of time before the Lunar New Year holiday trickles down to government offices, banks, and then to all of us.

And why not allow individual school districts, particularly in places with high Asian populations, the freedom to decide for themselves whether to keep kids home, or permit families to opt-out of school that day, but only if they choose?

Moreover, might not it be better for children to stay in class that day and learn about the contributions Asian-Americans’ have made to our society?  Instead, they’ll be spending the day playing video games, while their parents struggle to find day care. / RL


ECC-Enfield Seal the Deal

(Sept. 16):  The commitment came back in late-May.  But since then, the Enfield Town Board and the Enfield Community Council (ECC) have gone back-and-forth over the Town’s $45,000 allocation of money from the federal American Rescue Plan (ARPA) to support ECC programs over the next three years.

Last Wednesday, the deal was struck; the fine points resolved.  Initially targeted for youth programs only, the ARPA award to ECC was revised to also encompass families and adults. Some money will go toward summer camp, some to field trips, some to “career exploration and exposure” excursions for teens, some to adult programs.

“What our people actually need is to be brought back together as a community, because COVID definitely pushed us all into our little holes,” ECC President Cortney Bailey explained to the Town Board.  “We want to pull them back in and say, no, we’re all one community,” Bailey stressed.

Grandparents, parents, and kids might charter a bus to a ball game, for example.  The COVID relief money may also be spent to help build an ice rink or a “gaga pit.”


Some Splainin’ to do, Marc

(Sept. 16):  House Speaker Kevin McCarthy never called for a vote.  So Marc Molinaro could have kept his mouth shut.  He didn’t.

Congressman Marc Molinaro

After McCarthy took it upon himself to call for an Impeachment Inquiry into President Biden, our district’s Congressman inexplicably chimed in with his support of the Speaker’s action.  That’s even though evidence of Biden’s alleged wrongdoing has yet to be established.

“There clearly are questions of impropriety, and we want to be sure that we’re getting answers, and I think the American people deserve that as well,” The Hill quotes Congressman Molinaro as saying.  “The responsibility of Congress is to provide the appropriate checks and balances and that next step is now moving forward in a broader inquiry,”

Molinaro claims he “didn’t come here to impeach anybody.”  But observers say an impeachment vote is inevitably where this thing will lead.  Molinaro’s in a swing district.  Josh Riley is his next year’s likely Democratic opponent.  If Riley doesn’t make it his goal to force Molinaro to eat his words, we Democrats need another candidate. / RL


Hoop Dreams in Enfield

(Sept. 14):  A bit of teamwork between Town staff and a contractor should revitalize an overgrown basketball court behind the Enfield Community Center and permit its renewed use.

Wednesday night, the Enfield Town Board took the final steps to move the needed repaving forward.

This past spring, Deputy Supervisor Greg Hutnik and Enfield’s Parks Committee secured a $5,000 Tompkins County Municipal Parks Grant and designated the money to pave the ECC basketball court.  It was constructed on the former Living Water Church grounds, but had since gotten overgrown with dirt and sod.  First estimates had pegged the total project at $7,500.  The Town Board agreed to a presumed $2,500  local match.

Then the quotes came in.  Asphalt prices had gone up.  Lambert and Sons’ estimate, the lowest of three submitted, priced $9,000 for the whole job.  $1000 of that cost, Lambert said, would arise from grass and sod removal.  The project’s future dimmed.  And the County grant expires at year’s end.

Wednesday, the solution arrived when Highway Superintendent Buddy Rollins agreed, with Town Board authorization, to provide the site preparation that would lower Lambert’s price to $8,000, thus requiring only $3,000 in Town funds.  The Town Board consented.

“They’re OK if somebody wants to prep the site,” Hutnik said after talking with Lambert’s staff.  “That would be a win-win situation,” I replied.

Now the challenge is to fit the paving in before winter. / RL


EVFC 75th Anniversary

EVFC Charter Member Howard Stamp, flanked by Sen. Webb and local leaders Saturday.

(Sept. 10):  The Enfield Volunteer Fire Company (EVFC) celebrated its 75th Anniversary Saturday with a three-hour gala event and open house at their fire station in Enfield Center.  Tompkins County Legislators Anne Koreman and Randy Brown attended, as did Enfield Supervisor Stephanie Redmond and most members of the Town Board, including myself.

Keynote speaker, State Senator Lea Webb, commended EVFC volunteers for their dedication and for their “spirit of public service.”

“You just don’t do it by yourself,” Webb remarked.  “You do it with family.”  And she commended the family members of volunteers who encourage their effort.

The EVFC accorded special recognition to 99-year old Howard Stamp, the last known surviving charter member of the Fire Company, founded in 1948.  Stamp now lives in Ithaca.  The fire house he helped build lives on as our Town Board’s meeting hall and houses the Enfield Food Pantry in the truck bays where fire engines used to park. / RL


Fire Voting Hours Extended

(Sept. 8):  What some might call a “Snap Election” to increase the newly-created Enfield Fire District’s spending power won’t “snap” quite as fast as first planned.

Largely in response to this Town Councilperson’s plea, the Enfield Board of Fire Commissioners has doubled the length of the Tuesday, Sept. 12th referendum on increasing the District’s “Statutory Spending Limit” on fire operations.

As announced on the Town website Thursday, polls at the Enfield Community Center will now open Tuesday at 3 PM and remain open through 9 PM.  Originally, those polls would not have opened until Six that night.

Fire Commissioners at their meeting Wednesday expressed general support for the extended hours, but couldn’t officially act until getting their attorney’s approval.

“For many good reasons, extended voting hours hold merit,” I wrote the Commissioners in late-August supporting the extension.  Reiterating my position Wednesday, I observed that an evening-only referendum might preclude participation by second-shift workers and by those with visual impairments, who fear driving after dark.

The Tuesday referendum’s key measure would enable the Fire District to spend up to $575,000 annually for each of the next five years.  Without passage, State law would limit fire service spending to less than what the expiring Town-sponsored contract permits spent. / RL


Kruppa: No Mask Mandate… yet

(Sept. 7):  At this point, Cayuga Medical Center appears the overly-cautious outlier in its response to the local uptick of COVID-19 cases.  CMC is mandating masks.  Tompkins County is not.

“There’s no additional masking requirement coming from the County at this point,” Tompkins County Whole Health Commissioner Frank Kruppa assured a handful of municipal officials zooming into a Thursday morning, County-convened video conference call.

Kruppa acknowledged that “COVID numbers are going up” locally.  But he added, “The severity of the disease doesn’t seem to have pushed up.”

Wednesday, Cayuga Health Systems, operator of the local hospital, reimposed masking requirements at its facilities, effective today.  Cayuga Health said it acted in response to twin concerns: an increase in the latest COVID-19 variant found in area wastewater; and also a “notable” increase in infection rates among hospital staff.

County statistics Thursday reported only four persons hospitalized locally with COVID-19.  During the week ending in late-August, 59 new local COVID cases had been diagnosed.


Hearing Held; Opinions Mixed

(Sept. 6):  Six days ahead of a crucial public referendum, the newly-empaneled Enfield Board of Fire Commissioners held a Public Hearing Wednesday on a measure which could prevent major cutbacks in the fire service unless voters fail to approve it.

If the September 12th vote to raise the Enfield Fire District’s so-called “Statutory Spending Limit” doesn’t pass, we’d have to “cut the existing budget essentially in half,” Board of Commissioners Chair Jim Matthews warned the approximately 20 in attendance.  “It would be pretty disastrous for a number of reasons,” he said. “We’d have to get rid of assets.”

As Fire Chief Greg Stevenson explained, the state-imposed spending limit is “one of the many quirks” brought on by Enfield’s transition to a Fire District.  Voters can override the limit.  And Tuesday’s referendum will ask them to effectively double allowed spending to $575,000.

But critics peppered Commissioners with questions, forcing Matthews repeatedly to steer the conversation back to the central issue and to close the hearing before some had finished arguing.

“The public was misled on this from the get-go,” Diane Aramini, a known critic of fire service spending, told the hearing.

At times, Matthews stood at a loss for answers.  That’s because the attorney guiding the town’s transition was absent; tied up in court.


T.C. Center of Government Advances

Neglected (doomed?); The Wiggins building

(Sept. 5):  With only two lawmakers dissenting, the Tompkins County Legislature late Tuesday took its most significant step in two years toward an ambitious $40 Million plan to consolidate County offices in a mammoth Center of Government on the site of the former Key Bank and Wiggins law office buildings at North Tioga and East Buffalo Streets.

Legislators approved, with only one slight change, a measure drafted in committee that resolved that “the County proceed with plans for a Center of Government building” on the corner site and that it solicit quotes to hire an architectural and engineering design consultant for the project.

“We need more space for our many, many departments,” Enfield/Ulysses legislator Anne Koreman told her colleagues.  “This is a step to get us there.”

Dryden’s Mike Lane and Groton’s Lee Shurtleff dissented.  Lane feared the office building might conflict financially with another project of comparable cost; namely a new Public Safety Building.  And Shurtleff raised a different public safety issue: rising crime in the downtown area where the Center would be built.

Less controversial, legislators also Tuesday voted to sell the so-called “Red House,” a County-owned frame building a block away that preservationists want saved.  It stands on land the Legislature formerly favored for the office structure.