|BOARD UNANIMOUSLY APPROVES 2002 COUNTY BUDGET
By unanimous vote (14-0; Rep. Michael Koplinka-Loehr was absent), the Board of Representatives approved a $103 million 2002 County Budget. The local share of the budget is $50.6 million, about $2 million less than in 2001. The budget will raise County property taxes by 4.5 percent, from $5.44 to $5.69 per $1,000 of assessed value. The increase will add about $25 to the tax bill for a $100,000 house. County property taxes make up about one-fifth of most residents' total property tax bill. The need for a tax increase is largely due to a gap that has resulted as the County's surplus funds have shrunk. In the past several budgets, surplus, or "fund balance," has been used to offset tax increases, allowing the budget to grow without significantly burdening taxpayers. The 2002 budget uses $5.2 million in fund balance, $2.5 million less than in 2001. To help keep the tax rate from soaring, County departments cut their budgets by 2 percent and absorbed pay increases. Some were subject to further cuts designated by the legislators.
The legislators also approved a capital program for 2002-2006 that includes an anticipated $16 million public safety communications system that the County is expecting New York State to fund heavily. Other projects in the capital program - which is considered a planning document rather than a hard-and-fast schedule - are a new consolidated 911 dispatch center and improvements to several County-owned buildings.
The only last-minute changes to the budget were the addition of $80,000 in tobacco settlement money to the contingent fund, and an addition of $5,000 to the capital program as the County's share of a $100,000 sander truck for the airport. Neither change affected the tax rate. The Solid Waste Annual Fee was set at $51 per single-family household, no increase over 2001.
In a related matter, the Board approved 12-2 (Reps. Dooley Kiefer and Nancy Schuler voted no) an extension of the soft hiring freeze that was instituted by the County Administrator earlier this year. The freeze, in place for an unspecified period of time, requires review by the Personnel Director, County Administrator, and appropriate program committee before vacant positions can be filled. In the case of disagreement about whether or not to fill a position, the full Board will make the final decision. Contacts: Stephen Whicher, County Administrator, 274-5551; Tim Joseph, Chair, Budget Committee, 277-2519; Barbara Mink, Board Chair, 274-5434, 273-7847.
EDWARD MARX NAMED NEW PLANNING COMMISSIONER
County Administrator Stephen Whicher announced that Edward C. Marx has been hired as the new Commissioner of Planning for Tompkins County. Marx comes to the full-time position from Oswego County where he has been director of the Oswego Department of Planning and Community Development for the past 11 years. He is a 1976 graduate of Cornell University and holds a masters' degree in Planning and Community Development from the University of Colorado in Denver. Oswego County projects Marx has been involved with include completion of a comprehensive plan, redevelopment of a brownfield along the New York State Barge Canal, and the establishment of several county parks. He will start work in the Tompkins County Planning Department at the beginning of the new year. The salary for the position is $76,000. Contact: Stephen Whicher, 274-5551; Edward Marx, 315-343-3117.
TOURISM GRANTS BOOST SCIENCENTER, STATE THEATER
The Board approved tourism grants of $25,000 each to the Sciencenter and the State Theater. The grants are funded from County room occupancy tax revenues. Contact: Stuart Stein, Chair, Economic & Workforce Development Committee, 273-3500.