Highlights from the January 16, 2001 meeting of the
Tompkins County Board of Representatives
BOARD VOTES TO INCREASE COUNTY ROOM TAX; STATE APPROVAL NEEDED
By a vote of 12-2-0 (Reps Thomas Todd and George Totman voted no; Nancy Schuler abstained), the Board agreed to ask the state legislature to approve an increase in the County room occupancy tax, from 3 percent to a maximum of 5 percent. The tax is collected by hotel, motel, inn, and Bed & Breakfast owners and is used to support the Convention and Visitors Bureau and tourism promotion efforts. By raising the tax, the County expects to increase this revenue stream by $200,000 - $400,000 a year. Although initial discussion of use for the additional revenue has revolved around enhancement of local arts and cultural activities and community beautification, the Board postponed a decision on how to allocate the money. Bed & Breakfasts which have fewer than nine rooms would be exempt from the increase. In 2000, about $600,000 in room tax was collected.
TWO-YEAR BOARD TERMS A POSSIBILITY, SAYS MINK
In her annual address to the Board of Representatives and the public, Board Chair Barbara Mink suggested that, because 2000 Census figures will not arrive in time to redraw voting district boundaries for November’s County Board election, two-year terms may be the solution. Mink has assigned the Charter Review Committee, headed by Michael Lane, to explore that and other options and to bring forward a recommendation. All 15 Board members are currently elected for four-year terms; all of the terms expire at the end of 2001. Following Mink’s suggestion, another election would be held in 2003, after redistricting is complete.
MINK SETS COURSE FOR COUNTY GOVERNMENT IN THE COMING YEAR
A new focus on the arts, reform of voting procedures, a review of the County’s Charter and Code, and continuing intermunicipal planning efforts top the list of initiatives Board Chair Barbara Mink has proposed for 2001. In her first-of-the year address, Mink outlined the following:
- She asked Stuart Stein and the Economic and Workforce Development Committee that he chairs to explore setting up a countywide arts commission, linking increased room tax revenues to support for local arts and cultural activities.
- Mink assigned the Government Operations Committee, chaired by Michael Koplinka-Loehr, to look into ways to diminish barriers to voting, increase voter education to area college students, and streamline polling place operations.
- Rep. Michael Lane will chair a committee that will review Tompkins County’s Charter and Code and recommend changes. The Charter and Code is the document that describes how County government business is to be conducted, and also includes all of the local laws passed by the County legislature. A charter review every ten years is required by law
- Mink is regrouping the Intermunicipal Resource Sharing Committee she chaired last year. She has given it a new name, Intermunicipal Planning, and will open discussions among municipal leaders on growth and development issues that transcend municipal boundaries.
LALLEY JOINS COUNTY BOARD
Republican Joseph Lalley was sworn in to hold the District 13 seat on the Board of Representatives until December 31, 2001. District 13 encompasses the western half of the Town of Dryden, excluding the Villages of Dryden and Freeville. Lalley, who lives on Snyder Hill Road, was appointed by the Dryden Town Board to replace Charles Evans, also a Republican, who retired from the Board at the end of last year. Lalley is an operations manager at Cornell University. He will serve on the Public Works, Economic and Workforce Development, Government Operations, and Communications Capital Projects committees.
COMMITTEES FOR 2001 INCLUDE MANY CONTINUING ASSIGNMENTS
Board Chair Barbara Mink shifted a few standing committee assignments for 2001, but by and large, stuck by the existing committee structure. Continuing committee chairmanships are: Tim Joseph, Budget and Capital; Michael Koplinka-Loehr, Government Operations; Nancy Schuler, Health and Human Services; George Totman, Public Safety; and Stuart Stein, Economic and Workforce Development. New chairmanships went to Michael Lane, Public Works; and Peter Penniman, Planning. Particular issues Mink asked the standing committees to explore include:
- Budget: Look at ways to keep the tax rate stable;
- Health and Human Services: Oversee the start of new dental services for lower-income residents; look for solutions to the health aide shortage;
- Public Safety: Oversee and monitor new Alternatives to Incarceration initiatives, such as the Community Justice Center, slated to open later this year:
- Public Works: Oversee consolidation of the Highway, Buildings and Grounds, and Engineering divisions at the Bostwick Road Public Works facility, to be expanded this year:
- Planning: Support the "vital communities" initiative that takes a countywide approach to planning; analyze Census data when it arrives.
Barbara Blanchard will continue to chair the Communications Capital Projects Committee, a special committee whose task is to oversee the proposed Public Safety Communications System, the relocation of the state Department of Transportation (DOT) facility from Ithaca’s waterfront to a more appropriate site, and a consolidated 911 dispatch center. Blanchard has also been assigned the role of "economic development liaison" to help implement the countywide economic development strategy that was completed last year.
Michael Koplinka-Loehr will continue to work with the community-based Quality of Life committee that is preparing a report on quality-of-life benchmarks. Mink will continue to chair the Space and Location Committee to analyze and propose options for solving County government’s space crunch.
REPORT: LOCAL EMPLOYMENT PICTURE IS IMPROVING
Stuart Stein repeated highlights of a report Martha Armstrong of Tompkins County Area Development (TCAD) gave to the Economic and Workforce Development Committee earlier today. Armstrong cited statistics that show growth in employment in the County. According to Armstrong, Director of Economic Development Planning at TCAD, overall employment in Tompkins County in 2000 increased by 1.6 percent, or the equivalent of about 900 new jobs. The areas that saw job growth were:
- Manufacturing – 8 percent growth, or 300 new jobs;
- Health services – 8 percent growth, or 200 new jobs.
Social services employment declined by about 5 percent, Armstrong said, reflecting a loss in that field of about 100 jobs. She also noted that the number of farms in Tompkins County has increased slightly, indicating stabilization of a long-term decline in farming activity.
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