|LEGISLATORS SET ZERO PERCENT TAX LEVY GOAL
County Legislators set a goal for no tax levy increase in the 2006 budget. The levy is the total amount of property tax collected in the county. The zero percent goal implies very little increase in mandated and non-mandated costs in 2006, as well as the use of existing funds to offset a tax increase. The Legislators were largely in agreement that meeting the goal will be difficult and perhaps impossible - but the majority felt it was important to set stringent limits. As a result of increasing assessments of property values, holding the tax levy flat would reduce the tax rate, which is the amount of tax per $1,000 of assessed property value. The tax rate is currently $7.18 per $1,000. If the Legislators meet their goal, the tax rate would drop to $6.72 per $1,000, lowering the tax bill on a $100,000 house by about $46. The measure passed by a vote of 10 to 3, with Legislators Tim Joseph, Michael Koplinka-Loehr, and Nancy Schuler opposed. Legislators Dooley Kiefer and George Totman were absent. Contacts: Michael Koplinka-Loehr, Chair, Budget and Capital Committee, 257-2329; County Administrator Stephen Whicher, 274-5551.
COUNTY SETS SALARY LEVELS FOR NON-UNION EMPLOYEES
A group of 108 County employees who are not represented by a union will receive small raises retroactive to the start of 2005. The Legislature voted 12 to 1 (Dick Booth voted no; Dooley Kiefer and George Totman were absent) to approve raises of between 1.5 and 2.0 percent of 2004 salary levels for its management and confidential employee groups. A major feature of the management deal is a new three-tiered prescription plan that will require employee co-pays of $5, $15, and $25. The current prescription co-pay for most County employees is a two-tiered plan of $2 and $10. When the new plan is put in place, salaries will go up by another 0.6 percent. If the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) White Collar unit, whose contract expired at the end of last year, settles for a higher percentage raise, the non-union group will receive the same increase. The contracts for both the CSEA White Collar and Blue Collar units have been passed on to state officials for mediation. On a related topic, County Administrator Steve Whicher reported that state mediation of the contract for the Sheriff's road patrol union has failed to produce an agreement. The New York State Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) has moved the contract from mediation, where the parties are encouraged to seek a voluntary agreement, to what is called "fact finding," in which the parties in the negotiation present their information to a neutral party for a recommendation. Contacts: Steve Whicher, County Administrator, 274-5551; Anita Fitzpatrick, Commissioner of Personnel, 274-5526.
TWO PROPERTY ASSESSMENT EXEMPTIONS PASS; ONE FAILS
The Legislature passed two new assessment exemptions that can be used by eligible residents of Tompkins County. Approved were an exemption for historic barns to encourage their maintenance and preservation, and an exemption for major improvements to property to accommodate disabled residents. A one-year trial of deductions of unreimbursed medical expenses from income used to establish senior citizen assessment exemptions failed to pass. Contact: Michael Lane, Chair, Government Operations Committee, 844-8440.
LEGISLATURE ACCEPTS RECOMMENDATIONS FOR IMPROVEMENTS
The Legislature voted unanimously to accept recommendations resulting from a strategic planning process the County undertook over the past six months. The process, which involved multiple group processes to collect and synthesize input from County department heads and Legislators, did not yield the foundation of a strategic plan, as was originally intended. Legislators involved in the process, led by Michael Koplinka-Loehr, found that consensus on the selection of a few key items from the multiplicity of suggestions was elusive. Instead, the result is a set of recommendations that will guide organization-wide improvements. Contact: Michael Koplinka-Loehr, Strategic Planning Committee, 257-2329.
PUBLIC HEALTH DIRECTOR RE-APPOINTED
The Legislature voted unanimously to approve the re-appointment of Alice Cole to a third six-year term as Tompkins County Public Health Director. Cole is a lifelong Tompkins County resident and worked for the County as a supervising public health nurse and director of patient services before being appointed as the Health Department director in 1993. Contacts: Steve Whicher, County Administrator, 274-5551; Alice Cole, Health Department, 274-6674.