Highlights of the June 5, 2007 meeting
of the
Tompkins County Legislature
Legislature Supports Impeachment Inquiry
After listening to a half-hour of public comment and debating for nearly an hour on the appropriateness of local action, the Legislature took a stand on the call for federal investigation into potential impeachment charges against President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

By a vote of 9 to 6, the Legislature called for a comprehensive investigation of what was cited as evidence that may warrant impeachment of the President and Vice President of the United States.  Legislators Mike Sigler, Greg Stevenson, Dick Booth, Michael Hattery, Frank Proto and Tyke Randall voted no.  The resolution adopted urges the Members of Congress who represent Tompkins County to support formation of a subcommittee to investigate and review allegations that President Bush and Vice President Cheney committed high crimes and misdemeanors, related to their actions involving the War in Iraq.  It also urges members of the New York State Legislature who represent the County to call upon the Assembly and the State Senate to join in that request to Congress. The resolution, in part, alleges that the President and Vice President have misled Congress and the American people regarding Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and have misled Congress and the nation about ties between Iraq and al Quaeda.

The resolution was proposed by Legislator Pam Mackesey, in response to 2,600 petition signatures from county residents presented to the Legislature.  Before the vote, ten citizens urged support of the measure, with an overflow crowd packing the Legislative chambers and more watching by television in the nearby main courtroom. 

Legislator Dick Booth was one who argued against legislative action, that it “lies beyond any responsibilities of the legislature”, saying “my constituents did not elect me to decide impeachment.”  His motion to table indefinitely failed by a 6-9 vote.  Others stated that petitioners should more appropriately be lobbying their federal representatives directly.

Sponsor Mackesey stated that responding to a petition bearing 2,600 signatures from across the county is certainly appropriate, and Jim Dennis added that county government has standing in lobbying state and federal officials, considering with the amount of state and federal money that is part of the county budget

Copies of the resolution will be sent to federal Representatives Maurice Hinchey, Michael Arcuri and Randy Kuhl; to Senators Chuck Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton; on the state level to  Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton; to State Senators James Seward, Michael Nozzolio and George Winner; and to state legislative leaders.  It will also be sent to the media.
Contact:  Legislator Pamela Mackesey, 273-6203; Legislator Dick Booth, 272-6573.

In Split Vote, Legislature Sets 2 Percent 2008 Tax Levy Increase Goal
After multiple votes, the Legislature decided, by a vote of 8-7, to establish a financial goal of a maximum tax levy increase of 2 percent for 2008.  A 2 percent increase in the tax levy (the total amount of property tax revenue collected) would carry with it a projected half-percent increase in the tax rate (the amount paid by taxpayers per thousand dollars assessed property value) and would require an estimated $1.7 million reduction in locally controlled spending.  The Legislature also resolved that 2008 would mark the beginning of a process to stabilize the level of tax levy change.
The decision came about through a series of 8-7 votes.  First, Legislator Dick Booth moved to amend the 2 percent proposal on the floor by returning the parameters to the 3.6 percent levy increase goal, with a 2.1 percent tax increase, which had drawn a majority of votes, but not the 8 votes required for passage when a goal was first considered on May 1.  That amendment failed by a vote of 7-8, with Legislators Kathy Luz Herrera, Leslyn McBean-Clariborne ,Mike Sigler, Frank Proto, Greg Stevenson, Tyke Randall, Mike Koplinka-Loehr and Mike Hattery voting against.  Supporters of the less stringent goal expressed concern that the 2 percent goal was not realistic or attainable, in view of budgetary realities.

The Legislature then took an initial vote on the 2 percent proposal, which passed by a margin of 8-7, with Legislators Martha Robertson, Koplinka-Loehr, Jim Dennis, Stevenson, Pam Mackesey, Dooley Kiefer, and Chair Tim Joseph voting no.  Legislator Nathan Shinagawa, however, then asked for reconsideration, saying he had not intended to vote in favor of 2 percent.  Earlier, Shinagawa had expressed grave concern about the 2 percent target.  The reconsideration move passed by another vote of 8-7, leaving some expectation that a goal would not win support, for the failure to agree on an acceptable level; but when the reconsideration vote was taken, Legislator Stevenson changed his vote, and the 2 percent levy target passed, with Legislators Mackesey, Shinagawa, Kiefer, Koplinka-Loehr, Robertson, Dennis and Joseph voting no.

As part of the debate, Legislator Mackesey stated that what’s needed is not haggling over a target increase, but using some discipline outside of the budget process, realistically addressing county priorities and where reductions can be made.  Targets, several legislators noted, should be used as a guide, not considered cast in stone.
Contact:  Michael Koplinka-Loehr, Chair, Budget and Capital Committee, 257-2329;  Legislator Dick Booth, 272-6573.

Funds Approved for Community Re-Entry Initiative
By a vote of 14 to 1 (Legislator Mike Hattery dissenting), the Legislature approved the allocation of $28,715 to support a pilot community re-entry initiative for county jail inmates, to ease their transition into the community with the aim of reducing recidivism.  The action provides funding to Offender Aid and Restoration (OAR) to support a staff position; necessary staff training, equipment and supplies; and creating an Emergency Client Flex Fund for client re-entry expenses.  The re-entry initiative has operated since last summer as a pilot program, operated through OAR, the County’s Department of Social Services and the Sheriff’s Office.  The plan has been endorsed by the county’s Criminal Justice Advisory/ Alternatives to Incarceration Board, as an element of the CJ/ATI Strategic Action Plan.  Mr. Hattery said he supports the pilot program and that his opposition related to procedural grounds.
Contact:  Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, Chair, Public Safety Committee, 277-5104.

Among other actions, without dissent, the Legislature

· Authorized a public hearing on the 2007-2008 Tompkins Cortland Community College operating budget.  The public hearing will be held on June 19, 2007 at 5:30 p.m. in the Legislature Chambers of the Tompkins County Courthouse, 320 N. Tioga Street, Ithaca. 

· Authorized over $1.2 million in  consultant agreements with C&S Engineers, Inc. related to runway and safety improvements at Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport.  Since most of the expense is covered by federal and state grants, the action involves only $115,000 in local expense.

· Authorized continuation of the county’s Homeownership Program through $600,000 in federal Small Cities program income funds and recognized the Homeownership Program for Helping 250 low and moderate income first-time homebuyers to purchase houses.

· Accepted a $21,700 Scenic Byways grant from the state Department of Transportation to implement the Cayuga Lake Scenic Byway Corridor Plan.  Tompkins County serves as local sponsor for the grant, which will be used to develop educational information for visitors about Cayuga Lake’s water resources.  Funding will be passed through to the non-profit agency Cayuga Lake Scenic Byway, Inc., which manages the byway.  The Cayuga Lake Watershed Network will develop the materials.

· Accepted $15,300 in New York State Snowmobile Grant-in-Aid funds, to support the efforts of five snowmobile clubs to maintain more than 100 miles of local snowmobile trails in Tompkins County.