Highlights of the May 15, 2007 meeting
of the
Tompkins County Legislature
County Administrator Stephen Whicher to Retire
After seven years as Tompkins County Administrator, Steve Whicher tonight told the County Legislature that this year with the County will be his last.  The Administrator announced his intent to retire by the middle of next year.

Mr. Whicher said, “I would like to announce my intent to retire between March and June of 2008.  When I was appointed to this position, I felt that the transition was made more difficult because there was a lack of attention paid to the planning.  Thus, I am providing you with this extended notice, with the hope that an inclusive process and smooth transition will result.”

Steve Whicher has served as Tompkins County Administrator since January 2001.  For five years before that, he was Director of the county’s Division of Assessment, and from 1974 to 1980 was Assistant Assessor in the county Assessment Department.  His past professional service includes 14 years as an administrator with New York State’s Office of Real Property Services, where he served as a principal real property information system specialist and a senor real estate appraiser.

Mr. Whicher told Legislators, “I look forward to working with all of you and I will continue to do everything within my ability to keep the organization moving forward in a positive direction.”

Several legislators took the opportunity to praise and thank the Administrator, Frank Proto saying his resignation was only accepted with regret.  Nathan Shinagawa said he particularly appreciated the help Mr. Whicher provided to him, as a new legislator, and Dick Booth, on behalf of the Budget and Capital Committee offered his appreciation, describing the work of Administrator Whicher as “exemplary.”
Contact:  County Administrator Steve Whicher, 274-5551.

Emergency Responder Communications Equipment Plan Approved
By unanimous vote (with 2 Legislators absent), the Legislature approved a plan, advanced by the county’s Director of Emergency Response, to provide new radio equipment to the county’s emergency response agencies, as part of the county’s new 800 megahertz Public Safety Communications System.  A projected $2 million fund balance in the $22 million dollar project will purchase a basic level of mobile radios, portable radios and control station equipment for fire, emergency medical service and law enforcement agencies which are part of the county mutual aid system. Agencies will be responsible for pagers for their personnel and for any enhancements and additional equipment desired, at an anticipated agency cost in excess of $800,000.  This approach, said Director of Emergency Response Lee Shurtleff, will allow agencies to operate and communicate with each other from day one, through a standardized and effective system. 

While the County will continue the long-standing practice of owning and maintaining mobile radios in primary fire and EMS response apparatus, those agencies  will be responsible for future replacement and maintenance of all portable radios, beyond their initial first-year warranty.  Law enforcement and private agencies will be responsible for future replacement and maintenance of mobile radios in their vehicles.  The County also will develop necessary agreements with any non-local government agency, including the privately owned Bangs Ambulance Service,  included in the equipment distribution.  An amendment advanced by Legislator Dooley Kiefer incorporated radio equipment for command and management staff for the county’s highway and public health departments as part of the package.

Legislators voiced much praise for director Shurtleff’s dedicated and effective work in putting the package together.  Shurtleff responded that fire and public safety providers deserve much of the credit and that this result would not have been achieved without their cooperation.
Contact:  Lee Shurtleff, Director of Emergency Response, 257-3888 or 279-0732; Dick Booth, Vice-Chair, Public Safety Committee, , 272-6573

County Funding Approved for Catholic Charities Security Deposit Assistance Program
After considerable discussion, the Legislature, by a vote of 9 to 4 (with 2 Legislators absent) provided $20,000 in one-time funding from the county’s contingency fund, to allow Catholic Charities’ to continue its security deposit assistance program.  The program helps the working poor who earn too much to qualify for Department of Social Services assistance programs but who earn too little to pay a security deposit in addition to monthly apartment rent; that assistance, Catholic Charities director Chris Sanchirico reported, keeps an average of eight families a month out of local homeless shelters.  The program is funded by federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds which, because of demand, became depleted last month.  The Legislature’s action fills a gap in funding until an additional $40,000 in CDBG funds is received in October. 

Some Legislators, including Kathy Luz Herrera, expressed concern that proper committee procedure was not followed and that, while the need is great, the problem is more complex and the needs of the taxpayers can’t be ignored.  Frank Proto expressed concern that the action might be seen as a precedent by other agencies with depleted funds.  While he shared that concern, Mike Sigler stated that the program is worthy of support, since it “puts people in the position where they can stand up on their own”, but said the Legislature should not forget the connection between high rents, that aggravate the homelessness problem, and high taxes. Chair Tim Joseph urged his colleagues to support the measure, calling it “an emergency appropriation – an emergency to the approximately 40 families who will get a place to live” because of it.
Contact:  Nathan Shinagawa, Chair, Health and Human Services Committee, 280-7557; Kathy Luz Herrera, 273-8169; Michael Sigler, 339-7978

Legislature Takes a Stand Opposing Out-of-County Waste Hauler Traffic
By unanimous vote (with 2 Legislators absent), the Legislature urged the state Department of Conservation to address the broad regional impact of out-of-area solid waste trucks on local highways.  The measure, advanced by Legislator Pam Mackesey, uses the opportunity of a State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) review for the proposed expansion of Seneca County’s Seneca Meadows Landfill, to voice the County’s concern.  It is believed that haulers, many from out-of-state, are traveling county roads to reach the landfill, instead of interstates, to avoid inspection and weighing stations, and tolls.  The resolution strongly requests that the DEC require the trucks to travel on interstate highways, when practical, and to make that provision a condition of approval of the expansion proposal.  A SEQR hearing on the matter will take place in Seneca Falls on May 21.
Contact:  Legislator Pamela Mackesey, 273-6203

Roberte and Mical Exantus Designated County Distinguished Youth
Twin sisters Roberte and Mical Exantus were honored as this month’s recipients of the Tompkins County Distinguished Youth Award.  Ithaca High School seniors and co-presidents of the IHS African-Latino Club, the young women were nominated by club co-advisor Lynne Saulsbury, who praised them for their record of involvement since arriving at Ithaca High from their home country of Haiti and especially for the annual “backpack projects” they have undertaken to help those in their home country.  Saulsbury called the recipients “prime examples of kind, caring, resourceful young people who do make a difference.”  The Tompkins County Distinguished Youth Award is cosponsored by A&B Awards and Engraving, Bangs Ambulance Service, Purity Ice Cream and Cayuga Radio Group. 

Among other actions, the Legislature
· Approved by a vote of 9-3 a measure requesting state legislative approval for a two-year extension, until November 30, 2009, to charge an additional one-cent sales and use tax, in effect since December 2002
· Renewed the county’s membership in the International Council on Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI).  The $1,200 membership fee enables the county to access software and technical assistance to assess and measure its carbon emissions.
· Authorized an inter-municipal agreement between Tompkins and Cortland counties to permit a carrier to provide commuter bus service to serve residents of that county working at Cornell University and the City of Ithaca, revising terms of a resolution approved in 1993.
· Approved six grant-funded Project Assistant positions  for Tompkins Workforce New York to fund the Summer 2007 Youth Employment and Educational Program, offered in conjunction with the Ithaca Youth Bureau.