TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. –– During the Dec. 15 meeting of the Tompkins County Legislature officials passed a resolution adding local labor to the county Industrial Development Agency (IDA) after nearly a month of rallying by labor activists.

Additionally, legislators heard an update about the coronavirus pandemic from County Administrator Jason Molino and the Emergency Operations Center, and congratulated Legislator Anne Kelles on her impending assembly term.

You can follow along with the agenda of this week’s meeting here.

Adding labor to the IDA

During Tuesday night’s meeting, a resolution was passed unanimously to change the composition of Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency.

This resolution removes one legislature seat from the IDA, replacing it with a seat designated for a representative from local labor.

Legislators debated a substitute resolution raised by Legislator Mike Lane to expand the IDA to 9 members. Legislator Deborah Dawson challenged the motion suggesting that it would need State-enabling legislation. County Attorney Jonathan Wood clarified his position that State statutes need to conform with law stating that IDAs need to have between 3-7 members and that it would take State-enabling legislation to expand the IDA. The substitute failed 3-11, with Legislators Rich John, Mike Lane, and Martha Robertson voting in favor.

The resolution as it was passed does not require New York State approval.

The vote came after legislators heard public comments from multiple labor activists including Travis Nevins, a representative of the Painters and Allied Trades Union, Todd Bruer of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, worker’s rights and tenants union activist Ellie Pfeffer and Skilled Construction Craft Laborers representation Dave Marsh who said he would be interested in being nominated to represent labor on the IDA.

“We would like to be table and have those conversations as whomever it is comes to you for economic incentives,” Marsh said. “We’d like to know why they’re bringing their workforce from Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse or out of state because it happens a lot more than you think.”

In addition to the people who spoke or had statements read during public comment, multiple legislators spoke to the fact they had received numerous emails from constituents supporting the change to the IDA.

During the vote for the resolution, Legislator Kelles referenced the outpouring of interest from the public in this action, stating “This is to uphold and expand the intention of the IDA to create local jobs.”

Legislator Anne Koreman, who during a rally for the action spoke to her experience as a blue collar worker, as well as the enthusiasm that the group showed for supporting local jobs stated, “A silver lining to this pandemic is it has put everything back on the table. Think, ‘what if we were starting the IDA now,’ it would make perfect sense for labor to have a seat at the table.”

Emergency Operations Center (EOC) update on COVID-19 response

As has become customary, during the Dec. 15 meeting of the legislature members of the EOC presented an update on the local COVID-19 response. County Administrator Jason Molino opened the presentation with details on the spike in COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks in Tompkins County.

Following the Thanksgiving holiday active cases in Tompkins County rose to over 300.

A comprehensive document outlining the Tompkins County’s COVID-19 response can be found here.

In addition, Deputy County Administrator Amie Hendrix outlined the current operational priorities of the EOC, breaking down the work of County officials managing the COVID-19 response. The priorities include managing the current caseload, public communications, coordination with community partners, and planning for vaccine distribution in Tompkins County.

“We expect that once the Moderna vaccine is approved (which can be shipped in batches of 100) that we will start to see that coming directly into our community. New York State will be using pharmacies to contract with long-term care facilities for distribution,” Public Health Director Frank Kruppa said in regards to vaccine distribution.

Also a major part of the presentation was Kruppa highlighting the effectiveness of local contact tracing efforts, explaining that 56 percent of local positive cases have been able to identify where they contracted the virus, compared to an estimated 20 percent at the State level.

“A large component of that is the work that our staff does. The nurses work closely with individuals to find where the exposures are coming from.” he said.

Legislator Dan Klein made a plea for Tompkins County residents to consider applying for nursing and contact tracing roles at the Tompkins County Health Department. The County is bringing on short-term employees for these positions acknowledging that the need for contact tracing changes as the pandemic evolves. Members of the public interested in assisting in the effort can visit the County’s Human Resources website here.

Legislator Kelles celebrated 

A proclamation was read celebrating Legislator Anna Kelles for her achievement being recently elected to the New York State Assembly and for her work on the Legislature over the last five years.

“It has been such an honor to serve with every one of you – I can say to each one of you that you do this work with tremendous earnestness. You are truly public servants,” Kelles said. She continued, “I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that State Legislators have County experience. Counties do the administrative work of the State without all of the funding from the State.”

An additional proclamation was read acknowledging the service of retiring New York State Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton. Legislators thanked Lifton for her commitment to the district and policies she helped pass at the State level.

Anna Lamb

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