Highlights of the May 1, 2007 meeting
of the
Tompkins County Legislature
Legislature Fails to Set Financial Goal for 2008
There was much talk but, ultimately, no approval tonight for setting County financial goals for 2008.  The Legislature failed to muster sufficient votes to approve a proposal that would have established the target of a maximum 3.6 percent tax levy increase and 2.1 percent tax rate increase, to frame the 2008 budget process and require a projected $1.1 million reduction in locally controlled spending.  The failed proposal would have also set the intent to use 2008 to begin a process to stabilize the rate of County tax levy increases.

Although the vote was 6 to 5 (with 4 Legislators absent), the measure did not win the 8 votes needed to achieve passage.  Legislators Martha Robertson, Greg Stevenson, Jim Dennis, Dooley Kiefer voted no, and Chair Tim Joseph broke the tie to defeat the measure.  (Legislators Dick Booth, Kathy Luz-Herrera, Leslyn McBean-Clairborne and Tyke Randall were absent.)

An alternate proposal advanced earlier by Legislator Mike Hattery to set a more stringent goal of a 1.5 percent tax levy increase, with a zero percent increase in the tax rate, failed by a vote of 4 to 7.  Hattery called the proposed targets too high and said a lower target would force the county to face up to necessary program and personnel cuts

Legislators Dennis, Robertson and Kiefer all advocated having no financial goal for 2008, saying that the Legislature should leave it to the judgment of County Administrator Steve Whicher and department heads to present a budget proposal for Legislature consideration.  Dennis said he has confidence that the County Administrator and department heads “have a good sense of what we need and what the County can support.”  Robertson said she’s not convinced that setting a goal at this early stage does anything other than cause tension and called a goal “patronizing” to county staff.  It’s up to the Legislature, she said, to show discipline and not be restricted by a “straitjacket” of a goal.  Kiefer called the 2007 budget process “a failed experiment” and said, unlike last year, she wants to see a budget proposal that the County Administrator can recommend.

Supporters, however, countered that setting a target provides needed direction and, as Legislator Mike Sigler put it, adds “transparency” to the budget process.  Legislator Nathan Shinagawa called the proposed 3.6 percent tax levy increase goal “realistic” and Budget and Capital Chair Mike Koplinka-Loehr said that the projected spending reductions of more than $1 million would impose significant discipline.  County Administrator Whicher cautioned that no reduction in tax levy can be achieved without reducing programs. What’s really important, said Legislator Pam Mackesey, is stabilizing tax levy increases and not being subject to “wild gyrations” of tax changes that have happened in the past which, she said, waste both time and money.

Tonight’s discussion is not expected to be the end of the issue.  A motion to reconsider is likely at the Legislature’s next meeting on May 15th.
Contact:  Michael Koplinka-Loehr, Chair, Budget and Capital Committee, 257-2329; Legislator James Dennis, 387-4058

Legislature Reviews Criminal Justice/Alternatives to Incarceration Action Plan, Approves Annual State Service Plan
County legislators learned about the 2007 Criminal Justice/Alternatives to Incarceration (CJ/ATI) Strategic Action Plan, the product of nearly a year of review, research and analysis by the county’s Criminal Justice/Alternatives to Incarceration Board.  CJ/ATI board chair Suzi Cook stated that the program’s goal, as set out in the plan, is to “safely reduce the county’s jail population through measurable accomplishments in the County’s criminal justice practices related to ATI programming over the next 12 months.  It will work to achieve that goal through addressing five strategic objectives, focused on various elements of the program:
  • Increasing the use of ATI programming by local town and village justices;
  • Refining the process for ensuring comprehensive substance abuse assessments at the jail;
  • Designing a comprehensive reentry program plan for defendants returning to the community from jail, including services to be accessed while still in jail;
  • Increasing the utilization and effectiveness of the Ithaca Community Treatment Court Program;
  • and
  • Assessing the need and feasibility of a Defender-Based Advocacy (DBA) program.  DBA programs prepare individualized pre-sentencing alternatives to incarceration for courts to consider.

County department heads whose operations support ATI programming will be primarily responsible for carrying out the plan and making necessary adjustments.  The CJ/ATI board and the Legislature’s Public Safety Committee will monitor the plan’s progress. 

Legislator Frank Proto was one who asked for information on financial data – specifically, what the ATI program has cost so far and what planned new programs would cost. 

Without dissent (4 Legislators were absent) the Legislature also accepted the 2007 Alternatives to Incarceration Consolidated Service Plan, as approved by the CJ/ATI board, to be submitted to the state Division of Probation and Correctional Alternatives.  Submission of the service plan is required each year to secure state funding for ATI programs.  $26,800 to be received this year will fund salary and benefits for an Alternatives to Incarceration Substance Abuse Counselor to provide substance abuse assessments and services at the jail.
Contact:  Suzi Cook, Chair, Criminal Justice/Alternatives to Incarceration Board, 274-5546.

John Andersson, Long-Time Environmental Health Director, Recognized for Outstanding Service
By unanimous vote, the Legislature expressed official appreciation to John Andersson, who is retiring after many years as the county’s Director of Environmental Health.  Andersson has served the county for more than 30 years as a senior public health engineer.  The legislature’s resolution recognizes his leadership in projects including several revisions to the Tompkins County Sanitary Code, numerous restaurant and food inspections, open burning and clean air regulations, and it commends him for enhancing public knowledge of rabies and environmental health issues, while keeping his division fiscally responsible.  In its action, the Legislature “wishes to express its thanks and that of the entire Tompkins County community for his efforts to keep us healthy and well-regarded throughout New York State.”  Thanking the Legislature for its show of support, Andersson said, “It’s been a wonderful 30 years.  I appreciate it.”
Contact:  Legislator Frank Proto, 277-4875