Highlights of the October 7, 2003 meeting of the
Tompkins County Legislature

Legislator Barbara Blanchard, chair of the Communications Capital Projects (ComCap) Committee, reported that the committee voted today in favor of the most compete option for rebuilding the County's ailing emergency communications network. The committee voted 3-1 (Blanchard, Richard Booth, and Peter Penniman in favor; Martha Robertson against; George Totman absent) to recommend the County borrow up to $19.2 million for a complete upgrade of its Public Safety Communications Project. A lower-cost "Phase II" approach would upgrade much of the microwave infrastructure but would rely on older technology and not solve all of the system's many problems. To do just Phase II, instead of the complete project, would cost $13 million now, and would require a Phase III in the future. Staff has estimated that the cost of the phased approach is $2.8 million additional, to replace equipment and ultimately bring the full system up to a modern standard.

Finance Director David Squires explained to the committee that borrowing can be done incrementally and interest payments can be delayed to ease the tax burden in the early years of the project. If this funding is approved, no payment would be due in 2004, and only a minimal payment - equaling about a 1 percent tax rate increase - would be required in 2005. Payments would increase in 2006-2008, adding about 6 percent to the tax rate. By issuing one-year Bond Anticipation Notes (BANs), the County can enjoy an interest rate of about half of what it would pay with longer-term serial bonds. After five years, serial bonding would be required. This would cause a ballooning of the annual expenses in 2009, adding about 9 percent to the tax rate.

For the first five years of the project the County's investment would be kept to a minimum, allowing time for work to secure funding from Congressional member items, Homeland Security funds, and a possible partnership with the New York Statewide Wireless Network. "It is our great hope that the County will not have to foot the bill for this entire project," said Blanchard earlier today. Contact: Barbara Blanchard, Chair, Communications Capital Projects Committee, 277-1374; Lee Shurtleff, Director of Emergency Response, 257-3888.

Marge Dill, Director of the Human Services Coalition, presented the results of a study of the most pressing human needs in the community. The Compass II study, paid for by the United Way and with private funding, used a telephone survey of 500 respondents, interviews with key community correspondents, and analysis of existing data to determine the largest community and household concerns. Among all the respondents, the five highest priority issues were: poor employment opportunities or unemployment, need for affordable health care, lack of and need for affordable child care, a lack of affordable housing, and poverty. Contacts: Marge Dill, Director, Human Services Coalition, 273-8686; Legislator Michael Koplinka-Loehr, 257-2329.

The Legislature unanimously approved release of $127,929 of previously set-aside money, derived from unspent funds in the Sheriff's budget, for retroactive pay increases for the members of the Sheriff's deputies' labor union. A contract with the Employees' Union of the Tompkins County Sheriff's Department was approved in August. Contact: Barbara Blanchard, Chair, Public Safety Committee, 277-1374.

The Legislature approved tourism grants, to the Ithaca Downtown Partnership ($1,550); the 7th Art Corporation ($1,100); and the Icarus Theatre Ensemble ($4,000). Revenue for the grants comes from a hotel room occupancy tax. Contact: Michael Lane, Chair, Planning, Development, and Environmental Quality Committee, 844-8440.

The Legislature voted 10-4 (one member was absent) to move the STOP-DWI program from County Administration to the County Planning Department. The STOP-DWI program is fully supported by revenue from fines issued against drunk drivers. Contact: Michael Lane, Chair, Planning, Development, and Environmental Quality Committee, 844-8440.

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