Highlights of the January 3, 2006 meeting
of the
Tompkins County Legislature
Tim Joseph (D) was once again elected by his peers to chair the Tompkins County Legislature. The position of chair is filled each year by a majority vote of the 15 members of the Legislature. The chair is responsible for overseeing all Legislative functions. Joseph was nominated by Richard Booth (D) for a fifth year as chair. Booth characterized Joseph as a seasoned Legislator who leads with honesty and integrity, who understands and accurately relates complicated issues, and who is open to a variety of opinions. Michael Koplinka-Loehr (D) seconded the nomination, noting that a great strength of Joseph's is his ability to articulate all views on an issue, even those he disagrees with. Michael Hattery (R) nominated fellow Republican Frank Proto for chair; Michael Sigler (R) seconded the nomination. The vote split along party lines, with the Legislature's 11 Democrats voting for Joseph and its four Republicans voting for Proto.

In an address to the Legislature, Joseph said that continuing to work for a more equitable taxation model will be a high priority in 2006. "The overall structure of taxation in the state and nation has become too regressive and too reliant on property tax," said Joseph. Local property taxes are too high, said Joseph, largely because many State expenses have been transferred to the local level. While the counties have seen some relief from a cap on local Medicaid payments, counties remain vulnerable to cost-shifting. Joseph also said he is looking forward to partnering with the new District Attorney in building the County's alternatives to incarceration programs to include support for recently released jail inmates and for youth who are facing the challenges of drugs, gangs, and other dangers. Joseph cited affordable housing, increasing the diversity of the County workforce, a new approach to economic development, and intermunicipal cooperation - including forming a local "council of governments" - as additional priorities for the year to come. He welcomed the fresh viewpoints of the new Legislators, and thanked the many employees who supply the County's public services. (Complete address posted at www.tompkins-co.org.)

Leslyn McBean-Clairborne (D) was elected Vice Chair, her first time acting in this role. Again, the vote was split along party lines, with the Republicans voting for their nominee, Sigler. McBean-Clairborne said she would be looking to her colleagues to help her shape the role of Vice Chair, which doesn't have a well-defined set of duties. McBean-Clairborne identified her main areas of interest as social justice, human and civil rights, and public safety. She encouraged bi-partisan teamwork among the Legislators, new and old.

The County Legislature has welcomed a new group of colleagues for the four-year term that runs from January 3, 2006 to December 31, 2009. Seven newly elected Legislators, along with eight incumbents, were sworn in by Tompkins County Clerk Aurora Valenti just prior to the Legislature meeting. The seven new members are: James Dennis (D, District 15: Town of Ulysses, Village of Trumansburg, Town of Enfield north); Michael Hattery (R, District 14: Town of Dryden east; Villages of Dryden and Freeville); Pamela Mackesey (D, District 1: City of Ithaca); Duane "Tyke" Randall II (R, District 9: Town and Village of Groton, Town of Dryden northwest); Nathan Shinagawa (D, District 4: City of Ithaca); Michael Sigler (R, District 6: Town and part of Village of Lansing); and Greg Stevenson (D, District 8, Towns of Newfield and Enfield south)..

Finance Director David Squires announced that the County may end 2005 with an increase of about $2 million in unallocated revenue, that is, funds that are used for general government support and are not earmarked for any particular program. Final sales tax revenue for 2005 is expected to amount to over $850,000 more than was budgeted; and the County's 2005 earnings on investments will top $500,000, Squires said. These funds, plus other revenue streams, contribute to the County's financial stability, said Squires. Contact: David Squires, Finance Director, 274-5545.

Following his election as Chair of the Legislature, Tim Joseph announced the following standing and special committee assignments for 2006:

Budget and Capital: Michael Koplinka-Loehr (Chair), Pam Mackesey (Vice Chair), Michael Sigler, Richard Booth, Nathan Shinagawa;

Government Operations: Kathy Luz Herrera (Chair), Michael Sigler (Vice Chair), Greg Stevenson, Dooley Kiefer, Duane Tyke Randall;

Health and Human Services: Frank Proto (Chair), Nathan Shinagawa (Vice Chair), Michael Hattery, Greg Stevenson, Martha Robertson;

Planning, Development and Environmental Quality: Martha Robertson (Chair), Kathy Luz Herrera (Vice Chair), Duane Tyke Randall, Frank Proto, James Dennis;

Facilities and Infrastructure: Duane Tyke Randall (Chair), Dooley Kiefer (Vice Chair), Pam Mackesey, Nathan Shinagawa, Richard Booth;

Public Safety: Leslyn McBean-Clairborne (Chair), Richard Booth (Vice Chair), Michael Koplinka-Loehr, Martha Robertson, Michael Hattery;

Personnel: James Dennis (Chair), Leslyn McBean-Clairborne (Vice Chair), Frank Proto, Dooley Kiefer, Pam Mackesey.

In addition to the six standing committees that carry over from 2005, a new standing Personnel Committee was created to oversee workforce diversity and other personnel issues. Two special (ad hoc) committees - Library, and Strategic Planning - were appointed. Joseph will chair the Library Committee, whose other members are Kathy Luz Herrera (Vice Chair) and James Dennis. The committee will work with the Tompkins County Public Library to pursue a common vision for the library that is affordable to the County. Michael Koplinka-Loehr will chair the Strategic Planning Committee to guide the organization and the Legislature through a process of setting annual goals. The other members are Michael Hattery (Vice Chair) and Greg Stevenson.