Highlights of the August 7, 2007 meeting
of the
Tompkins County Legislature
Brown Road Site Chosen for Health Department Headquarters
Tompkins County will remodel existing space, rather than building new, to provide a new headquarters for the county’s Health Department.

The County Legislature discussed site alternatives in a more than hour-long executive session and  authorized County Administrator Steve Whicher to complete an evaluation and negotiate the purchase of a building at 55 Brown Road, located in the Village of Lansing, from its current owner, Cornell Real Estate, including completion of an environmental impact review.  The action also directs the Health Department Building Committee to develop a conceptual design for the building that meets the Health Department’s needs.  The Legislature’s vote was 9 to 5. (Legislators Kathy Luz Herrera, Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, Frank Proto, Tyke Randall and Greg Stevenson voted no; Legislator Pam Mackesey was absent.)  The Legislature must vote again to advance the project beyond the conceptual stage, once the conceptual design, environmental review and proposed purchase agreement are developed.

The two-story building, with an area of more than 33,000 square feet, is located within Cornell University’s Business and Technology Park, adjacent to Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport and close to the County’s Department of Emergency Response.  Constructed in 1989, the structure housed many of the University’s Development offices until three years ago, when those offices were relocated to Seneca Place in downtown Ithaca.   Through informal discussions with Cornell late in the site review process, county officials became aware of availability of the vacant Brown Road building, which could potentially meet the County’s needs.

Since the beginning of the year, the Health Department Building Committee has conducted a review of potential site alternatives, which were reduced to three primary options:  building a new building near the current Biggs B headquarters, leasing space at the NYSEG building in the Town of Dryden, or acquiring the Brown Road building. 

>From preliminary discussions, it is estimated that the Brown Road land and building can be acquired for approximately $3 million, with remodeling expense increasing the projected total capital project cost to about $8.7 million dollars.  That is about $4 million less than the projected expense the County would incur in constructing a new Health Department building, with projected savings in the range of $4.5 million, once the impact of debt service is considered.  This option is also projected to produce operational savings in the neighborhood of $300,000 per year.  Remodeling of the Brown Road building also can be completed by the end of 2008, about a year earlier than constructing a new building.

The Legislature thanked staff for its tremendous effort in providing information and analysis during the months of review and especially the Health Department Building Committee, chaired by Frank Proto, for its leadership of the study process.

Contact:  Frank Proto, Chair, Health Department Building Committee, 277-4875; Planning and Public Works Commissioner Ed Marx, 274-5560.

Drop-In Children’s Center Receives Funding
By a vote of 9 to 5 (with Legislator Pamela Mackesey absent), the Legislature approved $50,000 in contingent funding to enable Ithaca’s Drop-In Children’s Center to cope with an ongoing fiscal deficit.   The Center, which provides affordable childcare on a sliding scale for the working poor, had been in danger of ceasing operations without the infusion of funding.  (Legislators Mike Hattery, Mike Koplinka-Loehr, Kathy Luz Herrera, Frank Proto and Greg Stevenson voted against the measure.)    The action  provides $25,000 in operating funds for 2007, dealing with effects of a revenue shortfall produced by delayed opening following the Center’s 2005 expansion, and provides another $25,000 to reduce the gap between
fees and the costs of care for the remainder of this year.  The measure also supports operations of a group, to include Social Services Commissioner Patricia Carey, which will work on long-term fiscal sustainability of the Center, including the seeking of additional partners to help fund the Center.

 Legislator Mike Koplinka-Loehr proposed reducing the allocation to $25,000, but that proposal failed by a vote of 4-10.  Koplinka-Loehr maintained that the County should not be the institution of first-resort to resolve the “structural problem” of the funding shortfall, and that other community partners should be involved.  He said he does not see the request backed by a plan that gives him confidence that leads him to believe that commitment of public money will lead to a successful future, and he warned his colleagues about the pattern of funding emergency agency requests.  Legislator Kathy Luz Herrera expressed concern about the way in which the proposal was brought forward, suggesting that parts of the process were not as open as they should have been.  Legislator Martha Robertson, however, called the allocation a “cost-saver,” warning that, should the Center close, it would cost the County much more in the long run.

Before the vote, 18 residents spoke, including parents served by the Center, staff and community supporters, urging the Legislature to provide the funding assistance.  Speakers, often accompanied by their young children, praised the Center as a unique community resource, citing its diversity, the loving and caring environment it offers children, and the flexibility it gives families in providing safe and affordable childcare for working families.
Contact:  Nathan Shinagawa, Chair, Health and Human Services Committee, 280-7557; Michael Koplinka-Loehr, Chair, 257-2329.

Contingent Funding Allocated for Assessment Appraisal, Staff Position Approved
The Legislature, by a vote of 14 to 1 (Legislator Mike Kopinka-Loehr dissenting; Legislator Pam Mackesey was absent), authorized transfer of $50,000 in contingent funds to the Assessment Department to support the County’s share of a contract for professional services of an expert industrial appraiser specializing in power plant valuation to appraise the AES Cayuga Electric Generating Plant in the Town of Lansing.  The current assessment of $162,775,000 (with taxable value of $120,700,000) was established by a court-ordered settlement, being considerably lower than the advisory appraisal provided by the New York State Office of Real Property Services.  In anticipation of qualifying for  maintenance aid upon completion of next year’s triennial revaluation, the Assessment Department wishes to obtain an appraisal report to resolve the disparity between the current assessment and the value estimate provided by the state.  The Town of Lansing and Lansing School District typically share in the cost of such appraisals; any such reimbursements will go to the General Fund.

In a separate action, the Legislature by unanimous vote authorized the Assessment Department to hire an additional real property tax appraiser for the remainder of 2007 and increasing the hours from 35 to 40 hours per week, at a cost of more than $27,000, to enable completion of the valuation phase of the 2008 triennial revaluation.
Contact:  Assessment Director Valeria Coggin, 274-5517; Greg Stevenson,Chair, Government Operations Committee, 273-2439.

Legislature Allocates Room Tax Funds for Tourism Marketing Website Upgrade
Without dissent, the Legislature approved an amendment to the County’s contract with the Community Arts Partnership to provide up to $20,000 from the County’s Room Tax Reserve Fund to fund improvements to the county tourism website, IthacaEvents.com.  The site was created in 2001, and will be updated to make the site more user-friendly and efficient, and to increase its effectiveness as a marketing tool to bring more tourism to Tompkins County, strengthening the local economy.  The county’s Strategic Tourism Planning Board recommended approval of the p
Contact:  Martha Robertson, Chair, Planning , Development, and Environmental Quality Committee, 272-0584

Robin Presthus Recognized as Tompkins County Distinguished Youth
Robin Presthus, of Lansing, is August’s recipient of the County’s Distinguished Youth Award.  Presthus was recognized for his many contributions to Lansing Youth Services, and was praised for his leadership role in helping to assure the continuation and success of these youth services programs.  The Distinguished Youth Award is cosponsored by A&B Awards and Engraving, Bangs Ambulance Service, Purity Ice Cream and Cayuga Radio Group.
Contact:  Legislature Office, 274-5434.

Among other business, the Legislature

-  Awarded Suit-Coate Corporation of Cortland a $2.3 million contract for reconstruction of County Road 105 from the Dryden-Groton town line to the Cortland County line.  95 percent of the project cost is supported by state and federal funds.
-  Accepted a $74,900 grant from the State Archives to the County Clerk’s Office to back file and index deed records into the office’s Electronic Document Management System;
-  Accepted a $10,000 legislative initiatives grant awarded to the Office for the Aging by Senator George Winner’s office to fund purchase of 60 Personal Emergency Response System (PERS) alarm units for elderly and disabled county residents.
-  Accepted a $10,000 grant awarded the County Office for the Aging from the New York State Office for the Aging to fund Gadabout transportation services.