Highlights of the January 21, 2003 meeting of the
Tompkins County Board of Representatives
Finance Director David Squires announced an almost $3 million increase in year-end sales tax figures for Tompkins County, the City of Ithaca, and the various municipalities that receive a share of sales tax revenues. The overall sales tax revenue for the entire county in 2002 was just short of $40 million, up from 2001’s total revenue of $38 million. The County’s portion of the revenue is $23,078,620, a 7.9 percent increase from $21,385,379 in 2001. The added $1,693,241 will help ease some of the County’s budget woes as it deals with declining state aid and increasing mandated costs. Sales tax revenues for the City are up about $600,000; and the towns and villages have gained about $740,000 over 2001. Squires noted that County government’s sales tax gains are expected to continue in 2003 with the opening of many new stores in the area. Contact: David Squires, Finance Director, 274-5545.

County Legislature Chair Tim Joseph announced the merging of two County committees – Planning, and Economic and Workforce Development – into one. The reconfigured Planning, Development and Environmental Quality Committee will be chaired by Michael Lane and will have a broad, countywide focus on planning, economic, and environmental issues as well as the arts and tourism. Joseph also announced the formation of a new committee to be called Consumer and Community Affairs. Dooley Kiefer will chair the committee, which will oversee the libraries, Board of Elections, Cooperative Extension, and other public service or consumer protection agencies funded by County government.

Other standing committee chairmanships were assigned to Barbara Blanchard (Public Safety), Richard Booth (Public Works, renamed Facilities and Infrastructure), Michael Koplinka-Loehr (Government Operations), and Martha Robertson (Health and Human Services). Peter Penniman will continue for a second year as chair of the linchpin Budget and Capital Committee.

Barbara Blanchard will continue to chair the Communications Capital Projects Committee (ComCap), which is shepherding the County’s upgrade of its public safety communications system, the construction of a new 911 dispatch center, and the relocation of a state Department of Transportation depot from waterfront land on Inlet Island to Dryden. The Jail Space Planning Committee that was studying expansion of the County jail has been disbanded. Joseph cited a recent drop in the jail population and the County’s efforts in developing Alternatives to Incarceration programs as reasons to abandon any further planning for a bigger jail.

Joseph will chair a somewhat unorthodox new committee this year that he has formed in answer to escalating local costs for Medicaid services. The Tax Policy Committee will examine alternatives to increasing property taxes, including proposals for reforming the way the state uses or leverages tax revenues to support Medicaid. The committee will reach out to other taxing bodies, such as the towns and the school districts, in pursuit of solutions to high property tax bills. It will also seek to organize a grassroots campaign to apply public pressure to the crafters of the state budget and policies on Medicaid and other mandates.

Joseph also remarked that he would like to see County government do less hand-wringing over its troubled budget and focus more in 2003 on efficient service delivery, making best use of the resources it has. Contact: Tim Joseph, 274-5434, 277-2519.

The Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) will be chaired in 2003 by Dryden legislator Michael Lane. Lane succeeds former County Legislature Chair Barbara Mink as head of the agency. The IDA works closely with Tompkins County Area Development (TCAD) and is a public benefit corporation having the authority to issue business incentives including abatement of property and sales taxes, and tax-free bond financing. The IDA has seven voting members, who are appointed annually by the County legislature. IDA Membership consists of at least four members of the legislature (representing one City and at least two rural districts); one member from the TCAD Board of Directors; and up to two at-large members. In addition to Lane, County legislators Kathy Luz Hererra, Tim Joseph, and George Totman will serve on the IDA Board. Chamber of Commerce President Jean McPheeters will represent the TCAD Board. County legislator Peter Penniman and City of Ithaca Alderman Dan Cogan will be the at-large members. The appointments were approved unanimously. Contacts: Michael Lane, 844-8440; TCAD President Michael Stamm, 273-0005.

The newly appointed County Poet Laureate Kathryn Machan regaled the legislature and government access TV-viewers with a first-of-year poem on the County budget. The poem, which Machan read, makes tongue-in-cheek parallels between Orpheus’ venture into the underworld and the depths of despair of a difficult budget year.

Following the retirement of Judy Tynyk as the County’s Weights and Measures Director, her long-time assistant Don Ellis has been appointed to the position. Ellis served for six years as an inspector. The Weights and Measures program assures consumers fair weight and measure from devices such as gasoline pumps and mercantile scales. Contact: Stephen Whicher, County Administrator, 274-5551.


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