ITHACA, N.Y. –– During the first meeting of 2021 for the Tompkins County Legislature, officials heard updates on COVID-19 and the distribution of the vaccine as well as made plans for a special election to replace Legislator Anna Kelles who concluded her tenure on the legislature in order to begin in her role as newly elected Assemblywoman for the 125th district amongst other business.

Here’s everything you need to know from the meeting. You can also follow along with this week’s agenda here.

Appointment of new Chair

To begin the meeting, Leslyn McBean-Clairborne was selected by her colleagues to serve another year as the chair of the Tompkins County Legislature. This is McBean-Clairborne’s second term in role.

“This past year has been quite a challenge … I’ve been thankful for colleagues like all of you to help support my leadership,” McBean-Clairborne said at Tuesday’s meeting. “I can assure you that this year we are going to continue to do the business of County Government even while the pandemic continues … We may not always agree with each other, but we do not need to be disagreeable. We will be the beacon of hope and an example to other elected bodies on how we can work together.”

In addition Legislator Shawna Black, nominated by Deborah Dawson, was again elected unanimously to serve a third term as Vice Chair. Legislator Koreman complimented Black for being “excellent while navigating this stormy year,” and said that she is “steady at the helm.”

Emergency Operations Center (EOC) Provides Legislature Update on COVID-19 Response

Also during the meeting, Tompkins County Administrator Jason Molino and Public Health Director Frank Kruppa presented an update on the County’s COVID-19 response. The update included details on ongoing management of the virus in the County, as well as the safety, efficacy, and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines.

Kruppa shared information on the safety of both the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines, stating “We’re concentrating on sending people to the vaccines section of our website, we’re updating it frequently and there’s a lot of good information on there for the public.” Kruppa outlined the review processes at the Federal and State levels that occurred for the currently available vaccine and details on why mRNA vaccines do not cause anyone to be infected with the disease.

Vaccine administration began in Tompkins County in late December, and over 1,500 doses of the vaccine (94% of what has been received) have been administered in Tompkins County, with 1,800 more planned this week through clinics announced by the Health Department on Tuesday. The department is partnering with Cayuga Health System to administer the vaccine. Over 1,300 individuals are currently registered to fill the 1,800 available slots this week, individuals who are eligible can register through the Health Department’s website, a list of who is eligible can also be found on the website.

“It’s important to remember that while we’re excited to get folks vaccinated, we still need to manage the disease,” stated Kruppa, “We have to continue the public health guidance, and that includes those who get vaccinated. It will take a while for us to get to herd immunity, we’re still going to ask everyone to wear masks, avoid crowds, and keep distance from one another.”

Kruppa clarified that the required second dose of each vaccine will be distributed subsequent to the first dose, and that the system is designed for a second dose to be shipped to where every first dose was administered.

Kruppa added that despite availability of the vaccine some who are eligible are weary.

“The biggest challenge we have ahead of us is getting people to register to get vaccinated,” he said. “There’s a couple of things that play into that, there is narrow criteria right now but there is reluctance by some folks. How you can help us is to get vaccinated when you are eligible and tell people when you do.”

The reluctance to get vaccinated has been evident in the amount of still leftover doses in Tompkins which is still in the hundreds, and public health officials are increasingly advertising open slots to get vaccinated.  Vaccination clinics are being help to streamline the process for those eligible. They are being held at the old Sears location at the Shops at Ithaca Mall, with spots open for sessions  on Jan. 9 from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Monday, Jan. 11 from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Replacement of Legislator Kelles

A date was set for a special election to fill the District Two Legislature seat recently vacated by Anna Kelles, who was elected as a New York State Assemblywoman. The date of the special election will be March 23, 2021.

During Tuesday’s privilege of the floor candidate Leslie Schill took time to introduce herself to the public. Schill, a Cornell employee working in their planning office, said she has lived in fall creek for 13 years, and has experience serving on multiple county committees and working with the county’s planning department.

“I really think i can play an important role as a voice for my community,” Schill said about her candidacy. She added that she would focus her campaign around community health, including environmental, personal and mental health.

Schill is not the only one vying for the seat –– according to the Ithaca Times on Friday, Dr. Veronica Pillar, a local teacher and community activist, has also put her name hat into the ring.

Among Other Business

Legislators heard a presentation from County Planner Nick Helmholdt on a proposed change to the Hotel Room Occupancy Tax Law.

The proposed change would increase the room tax for small lodging establishments (including AirBNBs) from 3 percent to 5 percent, and follows a survey of small lodging establishments and deliberation by the Strategic Tourism Planning Board. The current two-tiered structure, where small establishments are taxed at a lower rate (3 percent), was described as not being currently necessary, as it was originally designed to help increase demand for small establishments.

The change, which would go into effect March 1, 2021, will be proposed in the next legislature meeting and follows review and discussion by the Strategic Tourism Planning Board.

Anna Lamb

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