TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. –– Several budgetary concerns, including salary increases and funding allocations were discussed during the Dec. 1 meeting of the Tompkins County Legislature in addition to updates regarding the county’s response to the coronavirus. Here’s everything you need to know from this month’s first meeting.

You can also follow along with the agenda here.

Public Hearings

First up on the legislature’s agenda was a public hearing regarding the selling of bonds to support new improvements to the Tompkins County International Airport, including infrastructure improvements and expansions to make the airport accessible for international travel. Two legislators spoke on the subject –– Anna Kelles and Mike Lane.

Lane complimented the impending improvements to the airport, while Kelles spoke to concerns regarding the hiring of a customs officers to complete the transition to an international airport. She spoke to the confusion and fear some citizens had upon seeing a marked vehicle from customs, thinking it may be Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers coming to detain residents.

“When people see this marked vehicle at the airport it’s specifically for the customs facility,” Kelles said. “I just wanted to clarify that because I know there was concern. And I wanted to say that we as legislators are maintaining vigilance about this.”

Also on the agenda for public hearings was comments related to the amendment of the Tompkins County Legislature Charter passed in November. The amendments, which can be viewed here, makes that the former chair and vice chair serve in their positions until successors are elected or until 30 days pass since the initial election date and gives chair salary to any vice chair acting as chair for more than 30 days.

The new language in the charter reflects rulings decided on several months ago following an extended back and forth to appoint a chair and vice chair last January.

Local labor and the IDA

During Wednesday’s meeting a letter was submitted into record from Travis Nevins, a representative of the Painters and Allied Trades Union, asking council to consider adding a tradesperson to the Industrial Development Agency (IDA) board as part of a larger list of recommendations made by workers’ rights activists.

“I hope that all the legislators will consider the policy recommendations in the report,” Nevins letter states.

It was approved unanimously by the Housing and Economic Development Committee on Dec. 8 to officially recommend that one representative of organized labor be added to the IDA board –– a resolution which will be voted on at the next meeting of the full legislature. 

COVID-19

Tompkins County Administrator Jason Molino and Public Health Director Frank Kruppa presented their 16th bi-weekly COVID-19 update to the Tompkins County Legislature last week as cases continue to skyrocket locally.

Legislature Chairwoman Leslyn McBean-Clairborne commented on the increasing infection rate at the opening of the meeting saying, “I am appealing to folks to please be mindful, careful, and do your part to protect my health and I’ll do my part to protect yours. And to the folks in our community who have experienced loss and those who are struggling from contracting this virus, I speak on behalf of this entire Legislature when I say we’re thinking about you and sending you positive energy for comfort.”

Kruppa, during his presentation, detailed the county’s vaccination distribution planning, including how to distribute the vaccine to priority populations such as healthcare and long-term care facility residents and workers.

He also informed the Legislature about the Health Department’s contact tracing capacity –– 47 county staff from other departments have completed the Johns Hopkins contact tracing training and are assisting the Health Department nurses and staff leading the operation.

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

Among other business

The Legislature unanimously approved a financing plan that will increase the annual household recycling fee to $70 for 2021 at the Dec. 1 meeting. Recycling and Materials Management Department Director Barb Eckstrom presented details on the reasons for the increase in the annual fee and the five-year contract with Casella Waste Systems and shared that the department will be instituting an education campaign to inform the public.

“It’s important to note, as Legislators have mentioned in the past, we are continuing to recycle in this County, we offer a lot more than any other County or planning unit in the State,” Eckstrom said. “To put it in perspective, even with these increases we can move forward economically.”

You can find out more about the fee increases here.

The legislature also voted unanimously to approve a salary increase for the Ithaca-Tompkins County Transportation Council (ITCTC) Staff Director. The increase however, does not come out of the county’s budget as the ITCTC is funded entirely through a federal grant.

In other news of grants, the legislature voted to accept a federal grant in the amount of $86,225 to the Department of Emergency Response to support emergency response initiatives including new computer equipment amongst other things.

The Tompkins County legislature is set to meet again, virtually, on Dec. 15 at 5:30 p.m.

Anna Lamb

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