October 22, 2021

Cortland County’s new director of planning takes reins

Valerie Puma/staff reporter

Trisha Jesset, the new director of planning for Cortland County, stands outside of the Cortland County Office Building. Jesset is the former deputy county highway superintendent.

Cortland County’s planning director was set to retire last summer, but it took nearly a year to appoint his replacement and now the retiree is sticking around as an adviser to help with the transition.

Trisha Jesset, the former deputy county highway superintendent, was appointed by the county Legislature to succeed Dan Dineen two weeks ago. As director of planning, Jesset, 34, will work with municipalities across the county — something she had experience with while working for the highway department.

“I’m fortunate in the way that I do know a lot of the people that are part of the greater picture and a lot of the other departments that we work closely with,” Jesset said Monday. “I’ve worked with them in different fashions — like the Soil and Water Conservation District, and I’m very familiar with a lot of individuals at the (state) Department of Transportation and other county departments. I think that will help me get a good transition.”

The Legislature approved her appointment at an annual salary of $80,536, along with a temporary part-time advisory position for Dineen, up to 17 hours per week for a maximum of 18 months, to help Jesset get accustomed to her new role.

“The director of planning helps municipalities in developing their regulations, monitoring and planning documents, asking where they see themselves going in the next five years, also reviewing development projects, like where the community wants to build a retail store,” Dineen said. Jesset can expect to work directly with planning departments and zoning officers to review plans and make recommendations.

“I’m not familiar with her, so it’s going to basically be a learning process for me, but I think the same planning process is probably going to still work, just with a new person in the position,” said Bruce Weber, Cortlandville’s planning and zoning officer. “Over the years, Dan was always there. He did a very professional job and was very helpful throughout the processes of General Municipal Law referrals to the county. I wish him the best as he moves forward.”

The state General Municipal Law requires the county planning board to review any applications on land within 500 feet of municipal boundaries, or state or county parks, highways or institutions.

The delay in hiring Dineen’s successor is not unique to Cortland County. A recent meeting with the Regional Economic Development Council for Central New York revealed a need for planners and code enforcement officials across Central New York, Jesset said. If she hadn’t already worked for the county, she probably wouldn’t have seen the job posting or applied for the job.

“When I saw the job posting and I actually read the description, I realized that it kind of contained some of my favorite parts of the highway position,” Jesset said.

Dineen said an important quality for the director to have is not only a background in engineering, but having the drive and personality to build relationships with municipalities.

“As far as working with the municipalities, helping them with projects and building relationships with them — that’s just naturally what I like to do,” Jesset said. “That’s what I like about county government and government positions in general.”