Cayuga County is moving aggressively to address roof damage and an aging office building in the coming months. That was the biggest takeaway from January’s work by the Cayuga County Legislature, according to Chairwoman Aileen McNabb-Coleman.
She sat down with FingerLakes1.com as part of a new series — shining a spotlight on local government. In the coming weeks we’ll be debuting recurring monthly conversations with leaders from the Wayne County Board of Supervisors, Yates County Legislature, Geneva City Council, and Auburn City Council to help residents in the region stay connected with local government.
Renovation for County Office Building
Speaking to roof damage caused by the wind storm in early January, McNabb-Coleman said a new vapor barrier was installed. “It’s only good for one season,” she explained, citing the need for a short-term solution until a full-renovation could happen in the spring. “We’ll be moving onto a full roof renovation in the spring, but that’ll be related to our next effort, to fast-track a total renovation of the building.”
For the better part of two years legislators and members of the community have debated updates at the county office building in Auburn. Meanwhile, the wind storm in January served as a reminder that significant change is needed.
Migrant Emergency Order Continues
Some were under the impression that when the legislature saw a turnover of control from Republicans to Democrats that some policies might change. Like, the emergency order that’s been issued-and-reissued since last year regarding the migrant crisis.
The order, effective immediately, restricts any person or entity in Cayuga County from entering into contracts with municipalities outside the county to provide housing or accommodations for homeless individuals, including migrants and asylum seekers, without written permission from the Chair of the Cayuga County Legislature.
McNabb-Coleman says the county’s Department of Social Services is understaffed, so the order would likely need to continue. Hours after our interview with the Chairwoman, the order was re-upped by leadership. “After some preliminary meetings with Social Services, I have decided to continue signing these orders, because of the fact that we have a staffing issue in our county,” she explained. One question that was central to whether the order should continue or not — is whether they’re seeing services be sought by those entering Cayuga County. “We’ll continue investigating this further and see what’s necessary as the weeks continue, but at this point, we are strapped for caseworkers, so we don’t want to make sure we have everything in place, or put any more stress on Social Services.”
Questions About Economic Development Loom
Despite Central New York standing to benefit significantly from the Micron development in Onondaga County — economic development was a big question for the Cayuga County Legislature. There were questions about what agencies would receive county funding for economic development efforts, whether the county would consider it’s own in-house effort, or something else entirely. While there were not definitive answers on that front — McNabb-Coleman said stakeholder meetings were set to take place this week.
“What are our objectives? We know we need to fast-track this, and it’s a very big priority for everyone involved. So we need to get everyone involved from the IDA, economic development agency, City of Auburn, and planning departments together to brainstorm how we achieve them,” she said. “I believe this legislature understands that economic development is a tremendous priority for the county to move forward, to bring us into the next several decades, so we need to think about our actions right now.”
Ambulance Coverage Persistent Concern
Since AMR pulled out of Cayuga County other agencies have stepped up. McNabb-Coleman said it’s great to see, but major questions remain about the state of all first responder services in Cayuga County. “It’s an all-over crisis we have with volunteerism,” she explained. Many of the first responder services residents value and rely on everyday are volunteer staffed. It’s created coverage challenges in the north and south.
“We have a lot of mutual aid going on in the center of the county, between the city of Auburn, and surrounding agencies, but the northern and southern parts of the county are underserved,” she said. “So we really have a crisis here, and so volunteerism is going to be the hardest thing that we deal with. I know there’s some legislation in the works to allow towns to have taxing districts for ambulances to setup new ambulance districts, but the state also needs to help alleviate some of the training cost and time associated with volunteering.”
She says the county is looking to the state to identify the biggest barriers, knock them down, and allow towns and counties to work together to provide the best services possible to all residents. Not just those in population centers. “In the short-term we’re going to continue looking at wait times for ambulances and see what the data tells us.”
Fire Training Funding Falls Through
Cayuga County will be left picking up the full-tab for upgrades to a fire training facility there. Earlier this month it was announced that $1.3 million in federal funding had been denied. It was an effort in Congress spearheaded by Rep. Claudia Tenney.
“We were really encouraged about the idea of getting those funds,” McNabb-Coleman explained. “Now we have to come up with the money,” she added. “We’re very grateful to have had those conversations with the Congresswoman. We did put some money in from the county to get the process started, so we’re trying to see what’s left with ARPA money and our budget for the next steps.”
That said, the Chairwoman was clear about there being a number of competing interests in Cayuga County, so nothing was guaranteed at this time.
The Cayuga County Legislature will hold its next meeting on February 29, 2024 at 6 p.m. It will be streamed live on the County’s YouTube Channel.