ITHACA, N.Y.—During its monthly meeting this week, the City of Ithaca Common Council voted 7 to 3 to pass the resolution supporting renewal of the Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit (TCAT) transportation agreement, likely the most significant development in the lengthy meeting for September. The vote does not approve the agreement itself, just a resolution to continue with negotiations.

The full agenda for the Sept. 7 Common Council meeting can be found here, and the meeting can be watched here.

Discussion preceding the passing vote revolved around the agreement that binds financial underwriters City of Ithaca, Tompkins County and Cornell University together in support of TCAT, including a clause that compels those three entities to fill the gaps if TCAT were to “incur more liabilities than it has in the way of revenue,” according to Ari Lavine, Ithaca’s City Attorney. Wednesday’s vote does not signify an actual change in the language, just that the negotiations should continue until a contract is reached.

In a letter sent from the county legislature to the city, legislators explain that they are not comfortable with proposed changes to the agreement, being pushed by Cornell University and the City of Ithaca, which would change the responsibility for underwriters to fill any financial gaps for TCAT beyond their initial allocations. Instead of a requirement to compensate TCAT for any operating loss in full, the new language would present it as a joint choice for the county, city and Cornell to consider any time it happens.

The change is “fundamentally inconsistent with our goal for TCAT’s future,” according to the letter, which also characterizes the change as giving “any individual underwriter veto power over the underwriters’ joint obligation to fund a TCAT operating deficit.” It is signed by every legislator.

The full letter can be viewed below.

Despite the county’s letter, Common Council voted to approve the reworked language and the negotiations will theoretically now continue towards a new agreement. Alderpersons Cynthia Brock, George McGonigal and Ducson Nguyen voted against approval of the resolution.

Community Justice Center

Otherwise, Monalita Smiley, director for the Community Justice Center (CJC), presented the center’s 2022 and 2023 work plans, which includes creating a community healing plan, development of an officer wellness program, piloting non-emergency call response teams and standardizing data entry, among other things.

The city budget items, with items reflected for the remainder of this year, include establishing a community healing plan (sessions began in February but are currently on hold), a culturally responsive training program, an inclusive recruiting strategy and collecting traffic stop data.

Following the presentation, Alderperson Jeffrey Barken asked for a definition and rubric of the term “healing” that can be measured throughout the community healing plan. Alderperson Cynthia Brock echoed this question, wondering how such progress could be accurately measured.

Smiley responded, saying that “We’ve asked the community, what does healing mean? What does healing mean to you? How do we address trauma? […] So the sessions that we had, were facilitated where people were able to share personal trauma and how they dealt with it, and then they were just provided with a safe space in order to address that.”

Brock asked for a clear report on what the cost per session for the community healing plan would be, as well as deliverables to measure the plan’s success. The CJC work plans will be presented to the Public Safety Committee later in September.

East Hill Fire Station

Former Fire Chief Tom Parsons, who retired in August but is still working on the new fire station project, noted that due to an effort to make the new fire station as energy efficient as possible and to comply with the city’s energy code, an additional $1.75 million will be required, with construction aiming to begin in March 2023. “Inflationary pressures” on the construction industry are also contributing to this increase in required funds.

Brock asked whether increased costs would include any unique items like an electric charging station.

“We’re putting the infrastructure in the building to be able to install electric fire truck, we’re not obviously not going to purchase a charging station until we have a fire truck to charge,” Parsons said, adding that one of the largest aspects of the project is ongoing geothermal testing to determine what would need to be done for geothermal heating and cooling for the building, which would eventually incur additional costs.

Next steps include reviews by the planning board, and a decision for approval of a site plan will be submitted in the next few months, construction documents will be in process through March, and as soon as the site and environmental reviews are completed, bids will be made for deconstruction and demolition of the current fire station so that new construction can begin in March, with the goal of completion by February 2024. The agreement passed, with one recusal.

Alderperson Phoebe Brown asked why Acting Mayor Laura Lewis and Alderperson Ducson Nguyen didn’t have to recuse themselves during the discussion of TCAT, despite them both being on the entity’s board.

Lewis responded that she’s “fulfilling her role as a councilmember and city representative,” and Lavine affirmed that TCAT is an usual situation as the city helped create the company and recommends a third of its board. Lavine also said that it is common for the council to share one or two members who are also on the TCAT board.

Other News and Notes

  • Public comments included one from Jan Lynch on the topic of snow-free sidewalks, which were discussed at length at a community meeting at the end of August; Nate’s Floral Estates resident Michael Fenner spoke about the quality of life that has deteriorated with the increase in drug and crime activity that occurs near the estate at the unsanctioned encampments; and Republican mayoral candidate Zach Winn reiterated more questions about impropriety during the formulation of the Reimagining Public Safety plan.
  • Other, slightly simpler topics on the voting block included an amendment to the 2022 budget for the Youth Bureau and accepting congressionally directed spending for the Downtown Ithaca Conference Center, which were both passed unanimously.

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. She has covered a wide range of topics since joining the news organization in November 2021. She can be reached at zhessler@ithacavoice.com...