Highlights of the August 3, 2004 meeting of the
Tompkins County Legislature
Tompkins County will potentially take advantage of an option passed by the state Legislature and awaiting the Governor's approval that will ease the impact of escalating payments into the state retirement system. Administered by state Comptroller Alan Hevesi, the plan allows local governments to skip their 2004 pension payment, ordinarily due on December 15 for the current calendar year, and instead pay the next year's bill on February 1, 2005. The option provides one-time relief to the over-stretched budgets of local governments. Tompkins County budgeted $3.8 million, or 12 percent of its total payroll, for state retirement costs in 2004. Those funds would be freed up to offset future costs. In a memo to the County's Budget Committee and distributed to Legislators at tonight's meeting, County Administrator Steve Whicher proposed channeling some of the funds into the County's fringe benefits pool as protection against future increases, and setting up a retirement reserve fund to stabilize the County's pension payments over the next three to four years. A related resolution to approve a 2005 fringe benefit rate of 39 percent of total payroll, the same rate as budgeted in 2004, was sent back to the Budget and Capital Committee for clarification. The fringe benefit rate includes state pension payments, the cost of employee health insurance, and other required payments. Contacts: Michael Koplinka-Loehr, Chair, Budget and Capital Committee, 257-2329; County Administrator Stephen Whicher, 274-5551; David Squires, Finance Director, 274-5545.

Under the "privilege of the floor" portion of the meeting, Legislator Michael Koplinka-Loehr showed a seven-minute video promoting his planned swim of the length of Cayuga Lake on August 13 and 14. Acting on his own, Koplinka-Loehr has asked the community to make donations to a special account held by the Community Foundation of Tompkins County, a private not-for-profit. The money that is collected will be placed in the foundation's "Tompkins County Quality of Life" fund. County departments and programs can apply for grants from the fund, which is intended to supplement - not replace - tax revenue. Contact: Michael Koplinka-Loehr, Chair, Budget and Capital Committee, 257-2329.

The Legislature voted 10 to 4 (14 members present) to add a data collector position to the Assessment Department staff. The action restores a position, at a lower salary level, that was cut in previous budget years. Assessment staff has dropped from 19 staff members to 13 over the last few years. One of those who voted no was Michael Lane who, earlier in the year, unsuccessfully promoted a three-year assessment cycle rather than the current annual re-assessments. Contact: Kathy Luz Herrera, Vice-Chair, Government Operations Committee, 273-8169.

The Legislature unanimously approved the creation of five positions for 911 dispatchers at the new Emergency Response Center. Three of the positions will be filled on August 1 with the transfer of experienced Ithaca Police Department dispatchers. The transfer of the IPD dispatchers is the last step in consolidation of countywide dispatch operations that started with combining Sheriff's Office and Fire Department staff. Contacts: Barbara Blanchard, Chair, Public Safety Committee, 277-1374; County Administrator Stephen Whicher, 274-5551.