TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—When there’s a pot of $6.5 million dollars up for grabs, and $34 million in requests for it, things can get a little tense.

Such was the case at the Tompkins County Legislature meeting on Tuesday night, which was sidetracked for an extended period by another discussion about the Community Recovery Fund approvals that are currently moving through the committee level.

The agenda for the meeting can be found here, and the full meeting recording can be found here.

Public comment kicking off Dec. 6’s legislature meeting was lengthy, with a few on varying topics but many regarding the county’s aforementioned Community Recovery Fund allocations.

Charles Geisler spoke about housing inventory in the county as well as rising home prices and said that the mobile home sector of housing is abundant in the county, and Fay Gougakis spoke, at length, regarding concerns she has about the new dockless Ithaca Bikeshare program and requested a public hearing on the topic.

Ray Schlather, Kasey Eiklor, Robin Elliot and Gideon Stone all spoke in support of the Finger Lakes ReUse Center receiving funding from the Community Recovery Fund, stating that the center employs many local residents, allows community members to shop more affordably and sustainably and supplies an organization where materials can be reused for companies that might otherwise send materials to a landfill.

Jordan Clemens, founder of Unbroken Promise Initiative, said that funding for infrastructure is still necessary for many neighborhoods around the county; Sabrina Leddy spoke in support of the #FreeCat campaign (which asks for TCAT to stop charging for rides) and requested that Cornell University contribute additional funding for TCAT.

Following the public comment portion of the meeting, Town of Newfield Supervisor Michael Allinger requested transparency for Newfield residents as it pertains to development updates to Second Wind Cottages, which has a proposal similar to the cottages recommended in The Ithaca Designated Encampment Site (TIDES) proposal.

Legislator Dan Klein, Community Recovery Fund Committee member, thanked all the community members who attended the meeting to speak on the recovery fund applications and spoke to the decision-making process for evaluating applications, and that the amount of money, $6.5 million total, obviously limited the number of applications that could be selected.

“I don’t want people to think that their time was wasted coming here, the door is still open in my mind,” Legislator Mike Sigler said. “I think at the end, we’ll have a great solution.”

Legislator Rich John said that the recovery fund has allowed the legislature to hear about all the great projects occurring in the community, and that moving into 2023 the body will be able to keep groups in mind moving forward for other funding opportunities.

After a prolonged discussion on how to proceed with the recovery fund awardees, a straw poll determined that the initial committee recommendations will be discussed at the Dec. 20 meeting. At points, it seemed like the legislature was leaning towards reconsidering every application as a full body, though this would have been challenging in terms of time and would have reversed work already done by the committee.

Klein said that “any legislator can propose amendments to propose what is in that package, but keep in mind that if you propose to add funding, you have to state where that funding is coming from.”

“While we’ve been tempted to look at who we’re going to fund, the overriding thought has been what it is we’re going to fund within the community’s values and needs,” said Legislator Lee Shurtleff. “I don’t have a single project funded in this project in my district, and I’m ok with that for one reason. To be transformative, I know in most cases, there is not the capacity in my district to carry out a transformative process.”

Briefly interrupting the recovery fund was a quick presentation on county sales tax from newly appointed interim Finance Director Andrew Braman. August saw about a 9% increase in sales tax, and a 4% increase in the third quarter of 2022. 

“September flattened out, and the increases that we’ve seen this year have definitely slowed down,” Braman said. “With the budget so far this year, we are expected to exceed budget for the year. The cautionary news is that the increases are getting smaller in the last couple months.”

Legislator Mike Lane said that he was happy to hear the public comment on the topic of mobile home parks (MHPs) and that he would like to keep them in conversations moving forward. Lane also voiced support for Ukraine as it faces ongoing violence, saying that “We stand with Ukraine against aggression […] we stand with the people who want Democracy and to chart their own course.”

Other news and notes

  • Klein gave an update from the Health and Human Services Committee and said that the committee will see a presentation from REACH Medical at its next meeting.
  • John, Sigler and other legislators also acknowledged the passing of Aurora Valenti, former Tompkins County Clerk.
  • County Administrator Lisa Holmes said that a job description for the new homelessness services coordinator position will be posted after the holidays.
  • Legislator Greg Mezey was appointed as at-large representative on the Tourism Planning Board for a term through December 2025.
  • A handful of resolutions were passed unanimously, including several grant acceptance authorizations and budget adjustments which advanced from the Public Safety Committee and Health and Human Services Committee.
  • The Tompkins County Legislature has appointed Katrina McCloy as the legislature’s clerk, effective Jan. 1, 2023, and Andrew Braman as the interim finance director effective Nov. 28, 2022. They will replace Cathy Covert and Rick Snyder, both of whom are retiring.

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...