In the echoing, mostly empty Town Hall courtroom, the Ithaca Town Board met on Feb. 10 to discuss revisions to the town employee health plan, deer management and the construction of the new Gateway Trail.
The town maintains a “wellness program” for its employees through a multi-municipality consortium that provides health insurance, according to Bill Goodman, deputy town supervisor. Goodman led the meeting as new Town Supervisor Rod Howe was not in attendance.
The wellness program encourages employees to focus on maintaining good physical health, offering incentives to attend a fitness club or exercise class. At the meeting, the board discussed the new provision to offer a $250 incentive — a “wellness contribution” — for having a routine physical.
The board voted unanimously in favor to pass this addition to the program.
Goodman said that one of the main goals of the program is to reduce overall health care costs. All town employees are all eligible and are not required to enroll proactively to receive benefits, only having to provide proof of attending a physical, Goodman said.
The board also discussed approved additions to the deer population management program, which began last year.
After the town conservation board conducted a study of deer population that showed overpopulation of deer, the town received a permit in March 2019 from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to allow volunteer hunters— not necessarily affiliated with the town — to help cull the excessive deer population in pre-designated rural areas of the town.
This year, the board is designating two new areas to allow volunteer archers to hunt deer. These two areas along the Six Mile Creek watershed are owned by the City of Ithaca, which operates several dams and reservoirs along the creek that provide drinking water, according to Goodman.
However, council member Rich DePaolo was concerned that people passing through these areas might not be aware of the hunting.
“I would be comfortable allowing this to happen if I could be sure that there is a place that users of this area could go to determine where this activity is going to be,” DePaolo said during the meeting. But Goodman replied that the areas for hunting are not near any organized trail, suggesting that the town put up warning signs in the area.
The board also discussed funding for a hydrological study of an area of the proposed Gateway Trail, a planned recreational trail, according to Goodman. The board unanimously approved funding for the study, which will be conducted by the private company Fisher Associates, an engineering consultant.
The hydrological study will look at elevation and drainage in the area, in response to two homeowners who expressed concern that the change in landscape resulting from the new trail would mean greater risk damage to their homes if the Cayuga Inlet flooded.
According to Goodman, the town would include drainage strategies in the development of the path, if the hydrological study shows that the homes are at a greater risk of flooding.
Goodman did not know the timeline of the study, but hopes that it concludes soon so that the trail can be constructed this year.