ITHACA, N.Y. — The Tompkins County Legislature moved forward a “conceptual” commitment to continue negotiating with the City of Ithaca regarding a conference center downtown. County Administrator Jason Molino gave a presentation to legislators regarding Governor Cuomo’s proposed budget and the impacts that may have on the county and the legislature, for a third-straight meeting, failed to appoint a new chair.

The agenda, agenda packet and video of the meeting can be found here.

Proclamation honoring African American History Month

Legislator Henry Granison (D-City of Ithaca) read a proclamation honoring African American Month in Tompkins County.

In celebration, the Pan-African Flag will be flown on all County flagpoles throughout the month.

The legislative chamber was also host to a rare musical performance, invited by Temporary Chair Mike Sigler, to perform a rendition “His eye is on the sparrow” that brought the chamber to their feet. (The performance can be found at around the 6 minute mark of the meeting video)

Public shows strong support, but lack of details leaves convention center concerns

About a dozen people spoke during public comment, with most of them speaking in support of the conference center being proposed as part of the re-development of the Green Street Parking Garage.

The complex proposal, still being negotiated between the city, county, Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency and the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, would see the city and county team up to create a financial failsafe —should the project fail to cover its expenses.

Representatives from downtown businesses, restaurants and hotels came to urge the legislature to support the initiative, saying that it would help diversify the local economy and make businesses less reliant on college students to sustain them.

The resolution, making a “Conceptual Fiscal Commitment” to the project, would allow the county to continue hammering out an MOU with other parties. Administrator Molino and supporters of the resolution tried to allay the fears of less supportive members by assuring them that any agreement struck would need to come back before them for approval.

After an hour of debate on the merits of the project, which saw officials question how much the county would be committing, where that money would come from and if the county should be involved at all in a project happening in downtown Ithaca, Legislator Martha Robertson (D-Dryden) reminded legislators that to be mindful of the “bigger picture.”

“Last I checked, city residents are part of the county,” said Robertson. “About a third of the residents. Even if you don’t agree that it directly helps outside the city, the city is part of the county, we are one community.”

Robertson was responding to skepticism from other legislators that the claims being made by local officials pushing for the convention center — like other towns and villages in the county will also see a rise in foot traffic and sales and room tax revenue.

“I don’t have anything against a conference center,” said Amanda Champion (D-Town of Ithaca). “If a business wants to open it, great. If the city wants to open it, great. I don’t think the county needs to be involved. I don’t think that this is really going to benefit everyone in the way that people are suggesting it will.”

The timeline is fairly tight for approvals. The city is set to vote on their side of the financial backstop commitment on Wednesday night and the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency set to vote Thursday as to the viability of the project. Should those three boxes be ticked, the IURA hopes to have a Memorandum of Understanding finalized by March 16. A timeline some legislators felt was rushed.

Legislator Granison proposed tabling the resolution so that more discussions could take place. There was later some confusion as to whether or not he actually made that motion. That motion ultimately failed before the legislature voted 9 to 4 to move forward with negotiations, with Legislators Glenn Morey, Amanda Champion, Henry Granison and Dan Klein voting no. (Legislator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne was not at this meeting).

There are no details on how much financial support would be required of the county, but legislators said in no uncertain terms that they would not support this money coming from the general fund, or property taxes. Staff reassured officials that, should they decide to approve the MOU, the money involved would come from hotel room taxes, which are generally paid by people from outside the county who are visiting.

Public Health Director Gives Update on 2019 novel coronavirus

The County’s Public Health Director Frank Kruppa briefed the Legislature on the coronavirus.

There have been 11 confirmed cases in the United States, but none in New York State as of Wednesday morning.

Kruppa emphasized there is a low risk of exposure for Tompkins County residents and visitors at this time and that the common flu is still a greater threat than coronavirus, emphasizing that the recommended precautions for both illnesses are the same.

The Health Department has evaluated one individual who meets the CDC’s criteria for the coronavirus. That individual – a Cornell student who lives off-campus – is being isolated and monitored, and samples were sent to the CDC and Prevention for testing.

The Health Department will be notified of any travelers returning from China to Tompkins County.

The New York State Department of Health has set up a hotline for coronavirus questions or concerns about travel and symptoms at 1-888-364-3065

County Administrator outlines Medicaid concerns

As Vaughn Golden mentioned yesterday, the state is currently devising a way to close a $6.1 billion gap to fill in this year’s budget.

A Tompkins County contingent traveled to Albany last week to lobby lawmakers on a bevy of issues — Medicaid spending among them.

According to County Administrator Jason Molino, if the governor’s proposed budget was passed as is, the county would be facing a $1.8 million levy increase this year to cover the increased expense or be forced to cut service. Molino tempered fears by clarifying that the governor’s proposed budget was sure to change, likely quite a lot, before passage at the end of March, and that state lawmakers they met with were largely in agreement that they are not on board with the governor’s Medicaid proposals.

That levy increase would push the county over the 2% tax cap, potentially complicating the 2021 budget process significantly.

The discussion followed an announcement by Cuomo late in the day Tuesday, naming his Medicaid Redesign Team — tasked with finding $2.5 billion in savings for New York’s hulking Medicaid program. That team only includes one county representative from Suffolk County, on Long Island.

County Clerk set to name Chair of the Legislature Friday

For the Third meeting running, the county legislature failed to appoint a new chair to the legislature.

Voting in favor of Legislator Lane were Legislators Shawna Black, Amanda Champion, Deborah Dawson, Henry Granison, Dan Klein, Anne Koreman and Mike Lane.

Legislator Kelles received votes from Legislators Rich John, Martha Robertson, Anna Kelles and the three Republicans on the Legislature – Dave McKenna, Glenn Morey, and Mike Sigler.

Since January, Legislators have deadlocked 7 to 7 on whether to name Mike Lane or Anna Kelles as the new chair. The vote was 7 to 6 in favor of Lane on this try, but as 8 votes are required, the seat remains empty.

That is, until this Friday.

County Attorney Jonathan Wood explained that, as stipulated in the County Charter, County Clerk Maureen Reynolds will now appoint a chair.

That individual would remain in that capacity “unless or until” the election of a Chair is added to a future agenda either by a member-filed resolution or a two-thirds vote of the Legislature,” according to Wood.

The election of a vice-chair will be considered as unfinished business at the next scheduled meeting of the Legislature on February 18th.

Thus ends the tenure of Legislator Mike Sigler (R-Lansing) has been serving as Temporary Chair since the Jan. 7 organizational meeting.