Highlights of the October 19, 2004 meeting
of the
Tompkins County Legislature
The Legislature approved the tentative (proposed) County budget for 2005 by a vote of 12 to 3, at its regular meeting October 19. The total allocation, including state and federal pass-through funds and reimbursement, is about $123.5 million. The local share, supported by local taxes and income, is $63,681,119. If the tentative budget is approved, the tax levy for 2005 will increase by 6.27 percent, or about $1.9 million over the 2004 levy. Because of rising assessed values countywide, the actual tax rate per $1,000 will go down by 4.19 percent. Taxpayers who have seen no increase in the assessed value of their property will pay less County tax. Those whose assessments have gone up may pay more. A primary driver of the increased budget is the County’s capital plan, which includes two large projects, the Public Safety Communication System and renovation and expansion of the County Public Safety Building. The Legislature has also put a high priority on increased funding for the County highway and bridge program. Increases in state-mandated costs, the budget-busters of the past few years, are less onerous for 2005, and sales tax revenue appears to be on the increase. These two factors have helped the budget and tax rate to stabilize.

Voting in favor of the tentative budget were Barbara Blanchard, Dick Booth, Tim Joseph, Dooley Kiefer, Michael Koplinka-Loehr, Michael Lane, Peter Penniman, Frank Proto, Nancy Schuler, Thomas Todd, George Totman, and Daniel Winch. Voting no were Kathy Luz Herrera, Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, and Martha Robertson.

The tentative 2005 Tompkins County budget is expected to be ready for public dissemination by October 22. A public hearing was approved for 7 pm on November 9 at the Ithaca Town Hall. A vote to adopt or amend the tentative budget is expected to take place on November 16 at the regular meeting of the Legislature, starting at 5:30 pm in the County Courthouse.

The County Legislature voted 14 to 1 at its October 19 meeting to approve the issuance by the Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) of up to $32 million in tax-exempt bonds for building renovations on the Ithaca College campus. In the past, the college has gone through the New York State Dormitory Authority for issuance of bonds, but working with the IDA will save the college money and allows about $150,000 in administrative fees –about a half a percent of the value of the bonds – to stay in Tompkins County for use in local economic development. The funds raised by the bonds will go to renovations of various campus buildings, some now nearing 40 years old.

The Legislature unanimously approved a series of resolutions confirming County road and bridge repair projects that rely on federal and state funding. The resolutions note the uncertainty of receiving New York State funding for the projects, potentially increasing the local share from a total of $117,996 to $471,985.

Tompkins County’s 2004 application for a $600,000 grant for its first-time homeownership program has been turned down. Kathy Luz Herrera, chair of the Planning, Development, and Environmental Quality Committee, has reported that the County applied for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), administered by the state’s Small Cities Program, in April. Herrera said the homeownership program, for which the County has received CDBG funding six times since 1993, can operate for at least a year or two with income generated from previous grants. The program provides mortgage and other assistance to first-time homebuyers whose household income is less than 80 percent of the countywide median. This past summer marked the 200th home to be purchased through the program, which covers all of Tompkins County outside the City of Ithaca. An indication of the program’s success is its foreclosure rate of less than 1 percent, compared to a rate of more than 12 percent for similar programs nationwide. According to Heather Filiberto of the County Planning Department, 204 proposals were made in the 2004 CDBG competitive grants process, for a requested total of $83.5 million. Fewer than half the projects were funded, for a total of $34.7 million. The County was planning to apply for new programs in the 2005 grants round but is now considering whether it should just re-apply for the home ownership funds, said Herrera.

The Legislature unanimously approved a five-year contract with the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce’s Conventions and Visitors Bureau (CVB) for services related to local tourism promotion. The contract is entirely funded with proceeds from the local tax on hotel and motel rooms and will be funded at $821,520 for 2005. In a related matter, continued multi-year tourism grants were approved for the Museum of the Earth ($25,000 for year 2 of 5); Historic Ithaca’s State Theatre ($25,000 for year 2 of 5); and the Sciencenter’s mini-golf course ($10,000 for year 2 of 2).

By unanimous vote, the Legislature authorized the re-issuance of up to $21.3 million in County debt. The transaction will allow the County to lower the interest rate it pays from 5.13 percent to 3.64 percent. The savings will average about $71,000 a year, according to Finance Director David Squires.