Highlights of the August 19, 2003 meeting of the
Tompkins County Legislature
A majority of the Tompkins County Legislature voted in favor of a resolution supporting a livable wage, as defined by Alternatives Federal Credit Union. The credit union has determined through its research that the local cost of living in the community is $18,061 a year, or $8.68 an hour for a 40-hour week, for a single person. Noting that the County already pays its employees a livable wage, the resolution commits the County to considering employee health benefits packages and wages paid by contractors when negotiating contracts and awarding bids. The resolution also urges legislation at the state and federal level for an increase in the minimum wage. Those voting against the resolution were Frank Proto (R, Caroline/Danby), Thomas Todd (R-Lansing), George Totman (R, Groton), Daniel Winch (R, Enfield/Newfield). Contact: Michael Lane, Chair, Planning, Development, and Environment Committee, 844-8440.

A unanimous vote (14 present) of the Tompkins County Legislature sealed a new deal with the County sheriff's deputies' union that has been over two years in the making. The deputies, whose last contract expired February 28, 2001, will receive a series of mostly retroactive raises dating from March 1, 2001 through September 1, 2003. The five raises range from 4 percent to 2.5 percent and will be paid to employees in a lump sum from funds already set aside in the Sheriff's budget. The percentage of employee contributions to health insurance will increase from 15 percent to 20 percent. The three-year contract, unanimously ratified by the union membership last week, will expire on February 28, 2004. The union, officially called the Employees' Union of the Tompkins County Sheriff's Department, has 40 members, most of whom are road patrol deputies. The base pay for a deputy, taking into account the raises to date, is $45,974. Contacts: Peter Meskill, Sheriff, 257-1345; Michael Santangelo, Employee's Union representative. 257-1345.

A $2 million increase in the cost of expansion and improvement to the Tompkins Cortland Community College campus received unanimous approval from the Tompkins County Legislature. The college's Master Plan includes the addition of an athletic facility and several new classrooms. TC3 intends to apply to the state and to seek private funding for the increase in the cost of the Master Plan, but has asked its sponsor counties, Tompkins and Cortland, for their blessing. The Legislature also approved, by a 12 - 2 vote, labor contracts for faculty and administrative workers at the college. Contact: Peter Penniman, Chair, Budget & Capital Committee, 387-3928, 387-5897.

The Tompkins County Legislature is continuing on its journey toward allowing Off Track Betting (OTB) in the county. At a public hearing, two horseplayers and a breeder of thoroughbred horses spoke in favor of OTB; no one spoke in opposition. The measure will be discussed in the Budget and Capital Committee before coming before the full Legislature. By joining the 13 other counties in the Catskill OTB Region, Tompkins County could earn an estimated $200,000 - $300,000 a year in revenues from a 5 percent surcharge on winnings. If the County Legislature were to adopt Off-Track Betting, residents could call for a permissive referendum to overturn the decision. Signatures equaling 10 percent of the vote in Tompkins County in the last gubernatorial election must be collected from registered voters in order to put the question on the ballot. If citizens wished to file a petition, they could get the question on the ballot this year or next year. Another option is a special election the County could hold in response to a petition. According to Election Commissioner Elizabeth Cree, 2,819 signatures would be required. If there is no attempt to call for a referendum, the law will go into effect 45 days following its adoption. OTB was rejected by voters in 1978 and 1991. Peter Penniman, chair of the budget committee, noted that gambling and games of chance are widespread and that OTB is the only form of regulated gambling that earns money for counties. Contact: Peter Penniman, Chair, Budget & Capital Committee, 387-3928, 387-5897.

The Tompkins County Legislature unanimously approved the first round of "capital" tourism grants recommended by the Strategic Tourism Planning Board (STPB). The capital grants, funded by the County's hotel and motel room occupancy tax, are intended to help tourist attractions expand their facilities or to fund feasibility studies for major tourism projects. Funds that have been granted on a multi-year basis must be approved annually. Grants were approved for:
-- PRI's Museum of the Earth, for building expansion: $25,000 in 2003; $85,000 - $125,000 over 5 years
-- Historic Ithaca, for renovations to the State Theatre: $25,000 in 2003; $85,000 - $125,000 over 5 years
-- Sciencenter, for a science-theme mini-golf course: $15,000 in 2003; $10,000 in 2004
-- Hangar Theatre, for a feasibility study of winter programming: $9,000 in 2003.
Contact: Michael Lane, Chair, Planning, Development, and Environment Committee, 844-8440.

For the fifth time, the Tompkins County Legislature has voted to extend an additional 1 percent of sales tax that was first imposed in 1992, when the rate was raised from 7 percent to 8 percent. The extra 1 percent must be requested from and approved by the state legislature every two years. State approval has been issued and the tax is in place until November 30, 2005. Nancy Schuler (D, City of Ithaca) and Frank Proto (R, Caroline/Danby) voted no. Contact: Peter Penniman, Chair, Budget & Capital Committee, 387-3928, 387-5897.

A resolution recommitting Tompkins County as a partner in the Recreation Partnership was postponed until the County Legislature's meeting on September 2.

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