ITHACA, N.Y. –– During the regular meeting of the Tompkins County Legislature on Thursday, Nov. 4, legislators discussed a completed Route 13 corridor study aimed at the upkeep and safety of Tompkins only major highway, and heard updates from both the county health and finance departments regarding budgetary issues related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

To see the agenda for Thursday’s meeting click here.

Corridor study

The Tompkins County Department of Planning and Sustainability and the Ithaca-Tompkins County Transportation Council conducted a corridor study of State Route 13 from Warren Road in Lansing to the Village of Dryden over the last year –– the findings of which are finally available.

The study includes over 1,500 survey responses, interviews and public comment periods. The final draft of the corridor study can be found here.

During Thursday’s meeting, consultants conducting the study shared a presentation highlighting their findings and recommendations. Some of the key areas of interest were intersections along the corridor with high crash rates and what can be done to mitigate incidents, as well as looking ahead to future development in the area and how the roadway can continue to accommodate both businesses and residents.

It was stressed repeatedly during the presentation that Route 13 is an integral strip, as it carries the majority of both large traffic related to business and is a major connector for tourists traveling in from outside Tompkins.

“It is in our best interest to maintain the functionality and safety of this corridor,” Commissioner of Planning and Sustainability Katie Borgella said.

Legislator Mike Lane echoed the sentiment saying, “this is where all the goods and materials come down, where people travel and commute into Tompkins County and if we don’t start thinking about it we’ll be overwhelmed with no money available.”

Changes to the corridor are far off and still in the brainstorming stage –– recommended strategies, which include intersection enhancements, transit improvements, bicycle and pedestrian accommodations, and zoning recommendations, all come with a 10-year planning horizon.

“This study was really proactive,” Borgella said.

COVID-19 update

Also during Thursday’s meeting, the Legislature heard an update on the local COVID-19 pandemic response from County Administrator Jason Molino and Public Health Director Frank Kruppa.

As the pandemic continues, the county has seen a spike in the rates of testing for COVID-19. In September, around 1,500 people were being tested on a weekly basis at the CHS Sampling site, and by the end of October that number had increased to more than 2,600. Health Director Kruppa explained that some of the increase could be attributed to folks returning to work and having increased exposure points, or that the rise in positive cases around residents could be leading to increased want to seek out a test.

Notably, Kruppa also shared that the county has supported over 4,600 individuals seeking a test through the community testing program, which removes any cost for receiving a test.

To accommodate increased testing and prepare for a vaccine, it was reported during the meeting that the Health Department has pulled up more than 30 employees to work with them at the Emergency Operations Center from elsewhere in the department, and that two additional registered nurses have been brought on to assist with contact tracing.

Also discussed Thursday was the economic impact that the pandemic has had on Tompkins County. During his portion of the presentation, Molino said that COVID-related expenses have topped out at more than $900,000 –– the majority of which is reimbursable through the federal government. Molino discussed where money would come from for the portion that is not reimbursable, and reassured county officials that the appropriations made at the beginning of the pandemic should last at least through February.

County budget and contingency fund

Also discussing the impact COVID-19 has had on the county economy, Finance Director Rick Snyder shared a report on the 2020 budget’s contingency fund, stating that the balance has been overspent due to unexpected pandemic related expenses, and additional funds would be needed from the fund balance to make up the difference.

The contingency fund is overdrawn by more than $117,000 and another $200,000 is likely needed to get through the end of the year, according to Snyder. Although a seemingly high number, Snyder reassured legislators that the amount is not completely uncommon.

“It’s not unusual in any given year,” he said.

Snyder shared that policies are being put in place to closely monitor contingency requests and expenditures through the end of 2020.

“We’d like to know about it sooner rather than later,” he said.

Other business

Proclamations were read acknowledging Indigenous People’s Day, Veterans Day, and in appreciation of home-health aides in Tompkins County.

Additionally, legislators congratulated their colleague Anna Kelles for being elected to the New York State Assembly.

“Tompkins County will be well represented in the Assembly,” Chairwoman Leslyn McBean-Clairborne said.

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at alamb@ithacavoice.com