Highlights of the August 21, 2007 meeting
of the
Tompkins County Legislature
Legislature Extends Recreation Partnership Agreement
The Legislature, by a vote of 12 to 3 adopted an extension of the intermunicipal Recreation Partnership Agreement, from January, 1, 2008 through December 31, 2012.  Through the partnership, the County, the City and Town of Ithaca and eight more of the county’s municipalities collaborate to plan, finance and provide recreation programs for county youth. (Legislators Mike Koplinka-Loehr, Mike Sigler and Kathy Luz Herrera voted no.)  Under the agreement, the County and the City and Town of Ithaca each pay one quarter of the net operating cost of the partnership, at a projected County cost for 2008 of just under $56,000, with the remaining municipalities paying the remaining quarter by an established formula.  The County Youth Services Department also provides significant program support. 

Koplinka-Loehr proposed an amendment, which failed by a vote of 4-11, that would have decreased the County’s contribution by 20 percent in the final year of the agreement and also would have inserted language which would base County participation upon the expectation that a mechanism would be developed to increase private donations to the partnership and that coordination with school districts and existing municipal recreation programs would be improved.  Only Legislators Koplinka-Loehr, Sigler, Luz Herrera and Mike Hattery voted in favor of the amendment.  Koplinka-Loehr stressed that no one questions the value of the Recreation Partnership; the question is that of the proper mission and role of county government. While the County initially became involved to strengthen a fledgling partnership, he suggested that it could afford in several years to reduce its level of participation. 

Before the vote, Caroline Town Supervisor Don Barber, Ithaca Town Supervisor Cathy Valentino and Ithaca City Alderman J. R. Clairborne all urged the Legislature to continue its support, stressing the importance of County participation and of the partnership’s role in supporting and developing the county’s youth.  Legislator Dick Booth said he’s convinced the County is, in fact, “the glue that holds the partnership together.”
Contact:  Nathan Shinagawa, Chair, Health and Human Services Committee, 280-7557; Michael Koplinka-Loehr, 257-2329.

County Reviews Sales Tax Intercept Option; Extends One Percent Sales Tax
Legislators heard a staff presentation on New York State’s offer to the County which, if accepted, would change the way the County supports Medicaid expenses.  The State’s Sales Tax Intercept Option offers counties a one-time opportunity to have a fixed percentage of sales tax receipts intercepted by the state to support Medicaid, instead of making Medicaid payments, which are presented capped at a 3 percent annual increase.  The Legislature’s Budget and Capital Committee last month indicated that it is not prepared to recommend that the County accept the offer, and while a Legislator could still bring forward an individual proposal, no one tonight recommended alternate action for consideration, and the Legislature appeared supportive of informally endorsing the committee’s recommendation.  County Administration and Finance presented figures which showed that the Medicaid expense and relevant sales tax revenue amount now roughly equal.  Since sales tax receipts have risen by an average of 4 percent per year over the last ten years, and Medicaid expense is currently capped at a 3 percent annual increase, it is believed that changing to the alternate system would produce a loss of revenue for the County. 

County Administrator Steve Whicher advised that, based on past performance, declining the intercept is the best option.  Finance Director David Squires said he firmly believes that the County should not accept the offer.  To accept the one-time offer, the County would have to respond by September 30.

On another tax-related issue, the Legislature, by a vote of 11 to 4, approved technical language which extends for another two years the one-percent county sales tax increase first approved and authorized by New York State in 1992.  (Legislators Mike Sigler, Tyke Randall, Frank Proto and Kathy Luz Herrera voted no.)  The action extends the increase through November 30, 2009, maintaining the county’s sales tax rate at the current 8 percent.  In May, the Legislature had requested that the State Legislature pass enabling legislation to authorize the continued increase.
Contact:  County Administrator Steve Whicher, 274-5551; Michael Koplinka-Loehr, Chair, Budget and Capital Committee, 257-2329; David Squires, Finance Director, 274-5544.

Legislature Urges Continued Authorization for Use of Lever Voting Machines
The Legislature, by a vote of 14-1 (Legislator Jim Dennis dissenting), urged that pending federal legislation include language to permit continued use within New York State of the traditional lever voting machines, until the state completes its process of certifying machines as compliant under the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA).  Certification of HAVA-compliant machines has been delayed, and New York State legislation has already been passed to permit continued use of the lever machines.  Not being able to use lever machines would force the use of paper ballots, which in Tompkins County would have to be manually counted, and elections officials indicate that would likely delay certification of election results past the mandated November 30th deadline.
Contact:  Greg Stevenson, Chair, Government Operations Committee, 273-2439; Elections Commissioners Elizabeth Cree and Stephen DeWitt, 274-274-5522.

BOCES Environmental Team Honored as Distinguished Youth
The Legislature recognized members of the Tompkins-Seneca-Tioga BOCES Envirothon Team as this month’s county distinguished youth.  The team, known as Dryden Apocalypse, was made up of students Dustin Foote, Lily Glidden, Aaron Delahunty, Jenny Fitzgerald and Katy Koken, placed first in Tompkins County and 18th out of 53 counties in the New York State Envirothon in May.  The hands-on outdoor competition tests students’ knowledge in the subjects of aquatics, forestry, soils, wildlfe and a current environmental issue.  The team was nominated by Seth Dennis, Education Coordinator for the Tompkins County Soil and Water Conservation District.  The Distinguished Youth Award program is cosponsored by A&B Awards and Engraving, Bangs Ambulance Service, Purity Ice Cream and Cayuga Radio Group.
Contact:  Legislature Office, 274-5434.

Legislature Authorizes County Application for Federal Transit Funding
The Legislature, by unanimous vote, authorized the County on behalf of Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit (TCAT) to file applications with the federal and state Departments of Transportation for $1.2 million in Federal Transit Administration operating assistance, capital and planning projects, as approved by the Ithaca-Tompkins County Transportation Council.  Among the capital projects is a Clean Diesel Conversion to retrofit TCAT diesel buses with equipment to comply with 2007 Clean Air standards.

Also without dissent, the Legislature authorized a pass-through of state transportation funding for $1.7 million to reimburse TCAT for 2006 and 2007 capital projects, under two aid programs and the 2005 Transportation Bond Act, which includes the purchase of three hybrid electric buses, with expected delivery this fall.  The Legislature also authorized an agreement with the state for more than $290,000 to reimburse TCAT for expenses related to the City Center project.
Contact:  Martha Robertson, Chair, Planning , Development, and Environmental Quality Committee, 272-0584