TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—A busy meeting as always on Tuesday night at the Tompkins County Legislature, most notably adding two legislators to the governing body and appearing to resolve the longstanding negotiations over the operating of TCAT buses and financially supporting the agency.
TCAT agreement moves forward
In the possible conclusion to a long saga, the legislature voted to approve the proposed agreement between the county, the City of Ithaca and Cornell University that enables the continued operation of the TCAT bus service.
The agreement has been a winding road, with certain ire levied by county officials at Cornell’s past negotiating stances, but it seems as if all parties have now reached an acceptable contract. There are technically still some details to be ironed out, but Legislator Deborah Dawson noted some of the urgency behind bringing the matter to a vote this week: the contract expires on Oct. 9, which would be just days after the legislature’s next meeting. The agreement would not change substantively during the final portion of tweaks, she said.
The FreeCat movement, which has recently gained momentum calling for TCAT to be free of charge to ride to increase access, got a tangential mention, as TCAT Attorney Susan Brock will be writing a letter to be included with the agreement that will make clear that the underwriters (namely, the city, county and Cornell) will likely be involved in any decision to go fare-free.
“It distinguishes between losses attributable to a substantial change to TCAT’s operating model or to a major and extraordinary capital investment,” Dawson said. “Those terms, actually, were designed to refer to a decision that the [TCAT Board of Directors] might make to go fare-free, or to invest in a brand new transit facility. Some of the partners feel they need to have that spelled out in a letter.”
The tug-of-war over whether or not the underwriters would be required to cover an operating deficit for TCAT if one does occur appears to be moot, then, as long as a major change isn’t made to the transit agency’s funding model or expenses. Chair Shawna Black thanked Dawson for her work on the issue; Dawson in turn thanked Legislator Rich John’s contributions.
Legislature grows by two
The Tompkins County Legislature is expanding.
The legislature approved a motion at its Tuesday meeting to accept the recommendations of the Independent Redistricting Committee, which will add another two legislators to the county’s governing body, which currently has 14 members, and change district lines throughout the county.
The vote brings to an end a brief game of tennis between the two bodies: The Redistricting Committee had sent its proposal to the legislature a few meetings ago, but enough legislators had issues with the proposal that it was sent back to the Redistricting Committee. The committee, unfazed, then voted to send the same proposal back to the legislature for this meeting.
“The process continues to be excellent, I can’t say I agree with the outcome,” Legislator Michael Lane said. “When you share power, which is what we have done here instead of keeping this as our own decision as most counties do about redistricting, I think sometimes you end up with things you don’t expect.”
Lane said he anticipates that Tompkins County would be the only county in the region, if not the state, to increase the number of legislators in its governing body, and reiterated his objection to maintaining an even number of legislators and the complications that can create (though Legislator Greg Mezey noted that a tied vote is “fails, it is not an impasse”).
Legislator Randy Brown was the strongest opposing voice, arguing that adding two legislators is a waste of money and doesn’t hold much value; colleague Travis Brooks also restated his problems with the new districts, saying he feels that there is too much low-income housing in a single district, disenfranchising their voices. Other legislators pushed back on this, saying there is actually low-income housing in several districts around the county, though it’s likely true that the highest number of units are in the City of Ithaca district that Brooks was referring to.
Community Recovery Fund
The Community Recovery Fund has proven more popular than county legislators may have initially thought. Applications have piled in since the window opened, to the extent that Legislator Lee Shurtleff said the county’s agreement with consultant firm MRB, which is managing the application process, may need to be tweaked to accommodate the unexpected workload. That could mean more money allocated to MRB, Shurtleff said, but that overall that could be viewed as a good thing.
“May sound like bad news, but I think the good news is that there is strong community interest in this and there are a lot of organizations and businesses that are looking at it,” Shurtleff said.