A strong, sustainable, and independent local economy is essential so that we can maintain and improve our built and natural environments. We will need:
- Responsible fiscal management;
- An expanded role for workers and a sharper focus on job development in County government, and particularly on the Industrial Development Agency;
- Carefully planned residential and commercial growth throughout our County; and
- Resources and inter-municipal cooperation to provide better public transit services in our towns and villages.
Protecting our environment and keeping people employed while negotiating our transition to a sustainable energy economy will be a major challenge. We will need:
- Better inter-municipal communication and cooperation;
- Better public outreach and education to dispel the myth that we must choose between our environment and our economy;
- A dedication to fact-based solutions; and
- Patience – with technology, the pace of progress, and each other.
Good government requires sustained dialog between legislators and constituents. We will need:
- A legislator who listens and informs (me);
- Constituents who want to stay informed and feel free to communicate their questions and concerns (you); and
- A method of communication (how about a listserv? other ideas welcome!).
Here is my first contribution to our dialog: This November 7, you will be asked to vote on whether you want a State Constitutional Convention to convene in 2019. This vote will have potentially enormous impacts on our lives in New York State. Get educated. Arrive at an informed opinion. And PLEASE VOTE!
PLANNING FOR A STRONG, SUSTAINABLE AND INDEPENDENT TOMPKINS COUNTY ECONOMY
Unless we build a strong, sustainable, and independent local economy in Tompkins County, we will not have the resources we need to maintain our natural, built, and social environments, or to implement important environmental, housing, economic, and social initiatives. We must strengthen our County’s revenue base, revive or repurpose our flagging commercial areas (particularly along the Triphammer corridor), allocate our resources more cost-effectively, and consider restructuring our tax abatement policies to more directly benefit local companies, entrepreneurs, and workers.
How might we strengthen our County’s revenue base?
Of course, new development is part of the answer, but I’d like to see new development that meets our need for affordable housing and senior housing at all price points. It would be even better if that development used sustainable, alternative energy sources. However, until we can make a shift away from natural gas, the County must work with NYSEG, the city of Ithaca, and all of our towns and villages to address the natural gas moratorium that unfairly burdens the Village and Town of Lansing. Ideally, the County could persuade the Town and City of Ithaca to voluntarily impose a moratorium on natural gas for new multi-family development within their borders, so that new gas hook-ups would be allowed only for new commercial and/or industrial development where they are absolutely essential.
I’d like to form an ad hoc committee of county Legislators, officials, and representatives of our tax-exempt “eds and meds” property owners to explore ways to leverage their resources and expertise to add value to our County’s bottom line. For example, they might consider donating services (e.g., planning, design, architecture, health and wellness counseling), and even unused real estate, to a development for affordable senior housing. OR, the Cornell Law School might consider reopening its Legal Aid clinic program.
Given national trends in consumer behavior, how might we revive or repurpose our flagging commercial areas, particularly along the Triphammer corridor?
Business at our mall and the shopping centers along the Triphammer corridor is a sad reflection of the national trend away from brick and mortar shopping. Malls across the country are shifting their character from shopping to “lifestyle” destinations, e.g., Destiny USA in Syracuse. If our mall decides to go in that direction – adding residential units to a mixed use development that emphasizes restaurants and recreational facilities – our County should be willing to use every means at its disposal to facilitate that transformation.
How might we allocate County resources more cost-effectively?
For a start, we can stop spending money on incarcerating non-violent offenders, many of whom need social services, psychiatric help, and substance abuse treatment, NOT jail time. We don’t need a bigger jail; we need better services. I endorse the efforts that some of our Legislators are making to move our law enforcement policies in the direction of alternatives to incarceration, and I commend District Attorney Matt Van Houten for his efforts to shift his office’s default setting from routine bail requests to “release on recognizance” for non-violent offenders.
How might we restructure our tax abatement policies to strengthen our local economy more effectively?
Our IDA’s “Local Labor Utilization Policy” (applicable to building contractors during the construction phase of projects that the IDA supports) is framed as an “encouragement” rather than a requirement. This is an unacceptable failure to support our local workforce, especially our union workers. I’ve been told that we don’t have enough skilled laborers in and around Tompkins County to support large projects; I suspect the real story is that we don’t have enough skilled laborers who are willing to work for peanuts.
Our current IDA Board comprises 4 County Legislators, Ithaca’s Mayor, the President of the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce, and a local businessperson. I believe that local labor should also be represented on the IDA Board. This isn’t exactly a novel or revolutionary idea either: New York’s General Municipal Law, which governs industrial development agencies, states that “representatives of local . . . organized labor” may be members of an IDA Board (GML Sec.856.2).
Our TCAD/IDA policies should place more emphasis on smaller, local businesses and start-ups that would train and employ our workforce in fields other than minimum wage retail sales, housekeeping, and maintenance. Bigger isn’t always better; LOCAL IS BETTER.
Finally, let’s use our TCAD/IDA and TCDC to promote the kinds of projects and development that we say we need, like alternative energy generation and affordable and senior housing, and not for hotels and high-end market-rate housing in mixed use buildings on the Commons.
PROTECTING CAYUGA LAKE AND OUR NATURAL ENVIRONMENT
Dooley Kiefer set a high bar for environmental advocacy on our Legislature, and we must honor her legacy by continuing to advocate for the protection of our Lake and our magnificent, but fragile, natural environment. I am not nearly so knowledgeable as Dooley on environmental issues, but I am willing and determined to learn from her and local environmental activists. I am a member of the Tompkins County Coalition for Sustainable Economic Development. I am working with the founding members of Cayuga Lake Environmental Action Now (“CLEAN”), a new organization focused on obtaining full and accurate disclosure about the potential environmental dangers posed by Cargill’s expansion of its salt mining operations northward into the Frontenac formation under our lake. With other local activists, I have visited the Syracuse Office of the NYS DEC, and State Senator Pamela Helming’s staff in Geneva, to ask that Cargill be required to provide its first-ever Environmental Impact Statement relating to the mine before being allowed to expand its operations under the Lake.
I’m learning more every day, thanks to the patient tutelage of many local activists, including Brian Eden, Cait Darfler, John Dennis, Lynn Leopold, and, of course, Dooley Kiefer.
CREATING AN ONGOING DIALOGUE BETWEEN DISTRICT 10 RESIDENTS AND THEIR LEGISLATOR
District 10’s residents and their Legislator should be engaged in an ongoing conversation. In the 18 months that I’ve been attending Legislature and Legislative Committee meetings, I’ve seen the same few members of the public come to meetings to speak to their Legislature. I haven’t seen very many people from District 10 in that group. I choose to believe that, if you were better informed about the issues that the Legislature was dealing with, you would become more engaged in legislative business. I also choose to believe that making myself more accessible will make you more willing to engage with me directly, and that will make me a better Legislator.
Of course constituents are always welcome to email, call, or write to their Legislator, but I’m considering a variety of ways to facilitate a more direct and less sporadic dialogue, including a monthly column in one or more of our local media outlets, a listserve, attending Village Board meetings, and arranging for periodic listening meetings. If you have any suggestions on this issue, or would be willing to host/organize one or more listening meetings during and after the campaign, please contact me directly at Deborah@deborah-dawson.com.
FINALLY . . .
I don’t presume to have all the answers, but I am committed to finding them!
I pledge to you that I will work full time on Legislative business, and with local and regional organizations and groups, to build a strong and sustainable local economic base that will allow us to maintain and enhance the natural and socio-economic environments that we value in Tompkins County.
I pledge that I will seek and take guidance from Dooley Kiefer and other local environmentalists, to continue Dooley’s legacy of environmental advocacy in County government.
I pledge that I will keep you informed and listen to your concerns and opinions.
I pledge that I will support fair and equitable treatment for every resident of our county, regardless of age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity.