“How are things going so far?”

Roughly six weeks after many new Chemung County officials were sworn in, this is a question I am asked frequently.

The short answer is this: Chemung County is moving in the right direction. I have disagreed strongly with some things proposed by County Executive Chris Moss, and I recognize we have a long way to go to create a Legislature that is fully transparent and that provides its members with the data they need to make informed decisions.

However, the many good things happening right now outweigh these concerns. Moss and his team are clearly working very hard to identify ways to make our government more run more efficiently while opening it up so that people have a chance to participate in a fair manner. Similarly, the Legislature is beginning to look at ways to use its powers under the charter to reassert itself as an independent branch, something that has been missing for many years.

Change takes time, it’s not easy and it is unrealistic to expect everyone to come down the same way on all issues all of the time. To the contrary, dissension and debate help fine-tune ideas and often lead to even better solutions.

The first six weeks of 2019 have certainly been busy – and there is no sign things will begin to slow down anytime soon. I have highlighted several issues below, many of which will come before the Legislature this Monday (February 11th.) There will be two special committee meetings starting at 6:45 pm followed by a meeting of the full Legislature where the public is permitted to offer comments on any issue for up to 5 minutes. The meetings will held on the Hazlett Building’s 5th Floor and live-streamed on the Chemung County Matters’ Facebook page. Agendas for the meetings are found here.

Salary discussions continue

Legislative Chairperson Dave Manchester has proposed the creation of a special committee to study Chemung County’s Single Rate Salary Plan. At last week’s standing committee meetings Manchester said the scope and length of the committee’s work has not yet been determined, and it is unclear whether the committee will need to hire an independent consultant to help it study salaries.

I am strongly in favor of this proposal. As I mentioned above, Moss is seeking to uncover all ways Chemung County can save money, ostensibly a good things. However, it is equally important that we both treat our employees fairly and keep salaries competitive enough that we can keep and retain talent.

An example of this special committee’s importance is revealed in another measure that will be considered by the Legislature on Monday night. At the special Budget Committee meeting, a new local law will be proposed to increase the salary for the Chemung County Clerk ($88,466 to $91,120) and the Director of Real Property Tax Services ($68,158 to $70,203).

These two proposed changes are fairly small, representing increases of roughly 3% each. Perhaps there is rationale for them, though nothing has been provided to the Legislature ahead of the meeting to support the changes. Without more, it begs the question yet again of why some salaries are increasing while other high ranking employees took steep decreases in pay. The special committee will hopefully go a long way toward answering these questions.

County-City committee proposed

Moss has proposed the creation of a City-County committee to study ways the two entities can work together to help each other and save money.

As with the Salary committee, this is a proposal I strongly support. The only way Chemung County will ever reach its potential is by finding ways to reinvigorate the City of Elmira. Hopefully this proposal passes and the people selected to serve can truly work as a team to help the entire community – a welcome change from the status of County-City relations we saw over the past few years.

Continued activity at the airport

The Legislature’s Aviation committee has had a busy start to the year, voting on a replacement for the Airport Director and being asked to review a number of contracts that affect business at the facility.

The item for Monday night’s special Aviation Committee meeting is particularly noteworthy as begins the process for the creation of a second Fixed Base Operation (FBO) at the airport.

Specifically, the resolution calls for a public hearing on this matter to be held on March 4th at 6:50 pm on the Hazlett Building’s Second Floor.

The issue of whether Chemung County should enter into an agreement with Premier Aviation for the creation of an FBO is already the basis of a lawsuit filed on behalf of Atlantic Aviation last fall. To the best of my knowledge it is predicated on the alleged involvement of Tom Freeman, a local businessman recently appointed to serve as the Elmira-Corning Airport Director.

A copy of the Minutes from last October’s Public Hearing where the issue of an agreement between the Chemung County and Premier Aviation was discussed can be found here. A segment of the Minutes is embedded below:

Prior to Mr. Freeman’s appointment to serve as Airport Director, I sent a letter to Legislative Personnel Committee Chairperson Marty Chalk wherein I posed roughly a dozen questions about Mr. Freeman’s potential conflicts of interest involving his entanglements with the private aviation industry. As of today I have not received an answer.

There is no question that everyone has a similar goal, i.e. the success of the airport, an important gateway to our community. However, there is ongoing litigation related to matters coming before the Legislature concerning Premier Aviation. At a minimum, the questions I asked last month need to be answered. The Legislature needs as much information as possible – including copies of all court filings in the above-referenced case, so long as they are public – in order to make the best decisions it can for the good of the county.

CCIDA looking to the past and future

As a new member of Chemung County’s Industrial Development Agency, I am gaining an entirely new perspective about the interaction between local government and the business community.

With six of seven seats filled, the CCIDA Board has begun to take action on many important and time-sensitive issues. Of note, it has decided to hire a new firm to perform its yearly audit as well as conduct a multi-year review in order to gain a better understanding the scope of the CCIDA’s current agreements. The goal is to select a new firm very quickly so that the 2019 audit process is not unduly delayed.

Similarly, we have decided to hire an independent attorney to review all activities over the past three years, and we have invited proposals from a variety of law firms interested in conducting day-to-day work for the board.

The board considered its first proposals of the year last week, voting to hold public hearings on a pair of projects involving solar energy. There will undoubtedly be many more matters headed its way soon, including several related to First Arena. The CCIDA currently owns the Arena and leases it to Robby Nichols, a local businessman.

The CCIDA normally meets on the first Thursday of the month in the Hazlett Building’s Second Floor conference room. Information, including Minutes from the meetings and annual reports, can be found here. All meetings are live-streamed on the Chemung County Matters’ Facebook page.

Partnership with New Visions

To conclude this post I want to touch on two things I am currently working toward.

First, I am excited to announce a partnership with New Visions, a program offered through BOCES to top high school students in the Southern Tier. New Visions is going to allow a group of its students to work closely with me from now until June to research and draft three resolutions focused on the environment that we will present to the Legislature before graduation. Our local chapter of Mothers Our Front, a group focused on finding ways to both help the environment and strengthen the economy through green initiatives, has expressed interest in working with us, as has New York State Senator Tom O’Mara.

My hope is that this partnership is something that grows over time to allow high performing students to learn about local government while we tap into their skills and perspectives to help the community – a win-win for everyone!

Town Hall schedule

Finally, I have worked with officials in the 7th Legislative District to develop a schedule for 2019 Town Hall meetings.

Additional meetings will be held in Golden Glow at dates/times to be announced soon.

Thanks for reading! As always, please feel free to chime in with your thoughts and ideas.

Christina Sonsire