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Highlights of the September 5, 2023 meeting of the Tompkins County Legislature

Center of Government, Sale of 408 North Tioga Street Property Move Forward

A resolution to proceed with space, architectural, and engineering plans for a Center of Government in the 300 block of North Tioga Street was approved 12-2 (Legislators Mike Lane (D-Dryden) and Lee Shurtleff (R-Groton) opposed). The resolution confirms that a Request for Quote will be issued to hire an architectural and engineering design consultant and that County staff will determine options for departmental placement within downtown facilities to be presented to the Facilities and Infrastructure Committee for consideration.

Legislator Mike Lane (D-Dryden) who chairs the Facilities and Infrastructure Committee detailed the process over the past several meetings and cautioned the Legislature moving forward on the grounds of the potential expense of the Center of Government as well as the impending decisions on the Public Safety Building and its future capital projects. Arel LeMaro, Director of the Facilities Department shared  that all immediate Public Safety building systems deficiencies are being addressed by the current project to renovate the building, though space needs deficiencies will likely persist. County Administrator Lisa Holmes stated, in response to inquiries, that both the Center of Government and future Public Safety building could be budgeted in the County’s Capital Plan though it may then become difficult to take on additional large projects in the future. Holmes added that one of the two projects would have to begin closer to 2028 while the other would begin in the next few years.

Legislator Greg Mezey (D-Dryden) shared his support for the resolution because it will help deliver real, detailed information on paths forward for a Center of Government building and its potential costs, “this really just starts the ball moving from discussion to planning. Yes, it’s an investment but its an investment in sound financials and schematics.” Mezey shared that his ultimate goal is best serving the community and County staff who serve the community. Several other legislators added their support due to the County’s ownership of the properties on Tioga Street and the ongoing office space needs detailed in recent presentations and planning documents from the County Administrator.

Legislator Lee Shurtleff (R-Groton) explained that he would not support the resolution because there have been too many instances of individuals being harmed or crimes being committed in the City of Ithaca, including an incident at Aldi, which is one block away from the Department of Motor Vehicles, and a shots fired incident on Buffalo Street near the proposed Center of Government. Shurtleff also referenced 2022 incidents near the Tompkins County Human Services Building on West Martin Luther King/State St.

As a precursor to the decision to move forward on building plans, the existing building at 408 North Tioga Street, often referred to as the “Red House,” was determined as no longer having a public use by a vote of 13-1 (Legislator Lee Shurtleff (R-Groton) opposed), with a subsequent resolution authorizing a sale of the property which passed 13-1 (Legislator Lee Shurtleff (R-Groton) opposed). In order to sell the property, a subdivision may be necessary and will be fully detailed before the property is listed. The Legislature will continue its considerations regarding the sale of the property following a request for proposals from local real estate agents or firms.

Among Other Business

Leo Riley was unanimously appointed the Director of Recycling and Materials Management. Leo has worked in the department since 2007, most recently as Deputy and Interim Director. Legislator Anne Koreman (D-Ulysses) commended Riley, “Leo’s career has been in waste and recycling management. He’s always looking to increase efficiencies, he’s overseen capital projects, and he always encourages and supports department staff.” Koreman added that during a recent tour with staff and Legislators of the facility he encouraged staff to shine and explain their work to visitors. Riley thanked Legislators and reflected on his history with the department upon accepting the appointment.

Tompkins County Administrator Lisa Holmes shared that Heather Chappel was named the Director of Weights and Measures. Heather has worked for over four years at the Tompkins County Recycling and Materials Management facility as Senior Weigh Scale Operator and holds a New York State Weighmaster license. The appointment follows a recent County Charter change placing the position in the Highway department.

The Legislature proclaimed September 14, 2023, as Friendship Donations Network Day in celebration of 35 years of the not-for-profit organization’s operations. The proclamation detailed the organization’s history and impact, including that each year their network of around 200 volunteers rescues 500,000 pounds of fresh food that is redistributed to hunger relief programs.

Chairwoman of the Legislature Shawna Black (D-Ithaca) addressed the recent killing of Thomas Rath as announced by regional law enforcement:

“I want to add my voice to condemning the terrible kidnapping and killing of Thomas Rath, and to extend a thanks to law enforcement officers from the region for investigative work and for apprehending those responsible.

Any act of targeted violence is unacceptable, but to see such a terrible crime committed in a coordinated fashion against such a vulnerable person in our community really is sickening. Rath lived in one of our homeless encampments in Ithaca, and his killing is a terrible reminder of the urgency of addressing the safety of the jungle and addressing targeted violence anywhere in Tompkins County.

Eleven arrests have been made following tireless efforts by local and state police agencies. I want to also thank those members of the public who shared information with law enforcement. Everyone in Tompkins County deserves to feel safe. I also want to thank those who contributed to the arrests of those responsible for this tragedy.”

Whole Health Commissioner Frank Kruppa joined the meeting to provide a brief update on the recent cluster of Legionellosis cases in the County. Kruppa stated that “the incubation period is 2-14 days, and we are at day 15 from the onset of symptoms of our last case.” He added that while it’s important to see two incubation periods pass, the time since the last case is a positive indicator. Kruppa outlined the testing, mitigation, and disinfection procedures of local cooling towers regulated by the New York State Department of Health.

During the next Legislature meeting on September 19, County Administrator Lisa Holmes will present on the 2024 Recommended Tompkins County Budget. While informing the Legislature of the upcoming presentation, Holmes stated, “I don’t think I can overstate what a challenging budget year this will be for the County,” citing the rise in Safety Net cases which is a mandated expense for the County, and a $4 million discrepancy in sales tax receipt numbers as compared to what was initially presented to the Legislature earlier this year.