Highlights of the January 15, 2002 meeting of the
Tompkins County Board of Representatives
Board Chair Tim Joseph announced that the County will follow multiple paths in solving the crowding problems at the County jail. The legal capacity of 72 inmates has been increased in recent years to a maximum of 103, through temporary variances from the New York State Commission of Corrections. The variances expire on March 19. Joseph said he, Sheriff Peter Meskill, County Administrator Stephen Whicher, and several County Board members will go to Albany to request and defend a two-year extension of the variances. They will point out that the County has launched an Alternatives to Incarceration program it hopes will reduce jail population, and at the same time, will study how it can expand the jail, if needed. Joseph is reviving the Public Safety Building Space Needs Committee that has studied the space limitations at the building. Joseph will chair the committee, which was disbanded last year after a consultant suggested an expansion project that was prohibitively expensive. The committee will work with the Commission of Corrections on a redesign. Joseph said he hopes the state will give the County two more years to test the effectiveness of its alternatives program and to work out a more affordable plan for the jail building. Contact: Board of Representatives Chair Tim Joseph, 274-5434, 277-2519.

Although the total 2001 sales tax revenue for Tompkins County was slightly down from the previous year, it is higher than was estimated and has added almost $900,000 of unallocated funds to County government’s budget. County Finance Director David Squires reported that the total tax revenue for 2001 is $38,021,749, one-third of a percent (0.33%) less than reported in 2000. County government’s share, $21,385,379, is $885,379 more than the $20,500,000 that was anticipated in the 2001 budget. Squires warned that the returns are subject to later adjustment by the state and do not necessarily reflect business activity. Sales tax is collected and sent to New York State, which calculates and returns revenues to local governments. In Tompkins County, the sales tax revenues are divided among County, City of Ithaca, and the town and village governments. Squires also reported that the County retained $1.7 million in unspent salary lines in 2001, an indicator of the success of the County’s hiring freeze, instituted early last year. Contact: David Squires, Finance Director, 274-5545.

The Board agreed unanimously to fill one position and create another to support emergency communications and response in Tompkins County. Lee Shurtleff, who has served as Deputy Fire, Disaster and Emergency Medical Services Coordinator since 1997, was named Director of the Department of Emergency Response. Duties of the new position include being highly involved in planning and oversight of the proposed upgrade to the County’s Public Safety Communication System. The Board also approved the position of Director of Dispatch Center, to manage and oversee operations of the County’s new dispatch center, which is in the planning stages. Contacts: Steve Whicher, County Administrator, 274-5551; Lee Shurtleff, 257-3888.

Consultants Tom Daniels and George Frantz recommended that the County create a Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program to protect farmland in Tompkins County. With a PDR program in place, the County would purchase development rights from willing private land owners, who would retain all rights of land ownership but agree not to develop their land for any use other than farming. Daniels reported that in the last 20 years, 21 percent of all farmland in the county was converted to non-farm uses. A long-term PDR program, estimated by consultants to cost $9 - $15 million over 20 to 30 years, could purchase development rights for up to 21,000 acres of high-quality farmland in the county. Proponents of the program say it would help protect Tompkins County’s agricultural businesses by providing an economic incentive, while preserving the rural character and beauty of the area. State and federal funding for development rights purchases may be available, the consultants advised. Contact: Joan Jurkewich, Tompkins County Planning Department, 274-5566.

The Tompkins County Planning Department is looking for public input on projects the County should apply for under the 2002 Community Development Block Grant Small Cities Program. At a preliminary hearing, consultant Dave Carlson reported on general housing, public facilities, and micro-enterprise needs in the County. A second hearing will be held on February 19 for public comment on the specific grant application. Since 1991, the County has received Community Development Block Grant for housing rehabilitation, subsidies for first-time homeowners, and low-interest loans to businesses. The total over ten years is $10,730,000. Contact: Katie Borgella, Tompkins County Planning Department, 274-5566.

Board Chair Tim Joseph reported that he has formed a new standing committee of the Board of Representatives. The ITS Policy Committee, chaired by Rep. Daniel Winch, will work with the County’s Information Technology Services Department in setting policy for electronic communication and technology services, support, and networking. Contact: Board of Representatives Chair Tim Joseph, 274-5434, 277-2519.

The Board approved, by unanimous vote, appointments of Reps. Tim Joseph, Peter Penniman, and George Totman to the board of the Industrial Development Agency (IDA). Rep. Kathy Luz Herrera was appointed to the IDA board as an at-large member. Barbara Mink, previously appointed as an at-large member, will continue to chair the IDA board. The IDA offers economic incentives to local businesses and industries to help create and retain job opportunities and strengthen the tax base. Contact: Board of Representatives Chair Tim Joseph, 274-5434, 277-2519.

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