Highlights of the November 20, 2007 meeting
of the
Tompkins County Legislature
Legislature Adopts 2008 Tompkins County Budget
Nearly ten weeks after the process began, the Tompkins County Legislature tonight adopted a 2008 Tompkins County Budget.  The final vote, approving the 2008 budget and the 2008-2012 capital program, was 8 to 6, with Legislators Mike Sigler, Greg Stevenson, Mike Hattery, Kathy Luz Herrera, Frank Proto and Tyke Randall voting no.  (The Legislature currently stands at 14 members, with the District 3 seat, formerly held by Dick Booth, vacant.)  The approved budget increases the 2008 tax levy by 2.82 percent, and the tax rate by 10 cents to $6.86 per thousand, an increase of 1.5 percent.

Before the adoption vote, Legislators approved several changes which, when taken together, slightly decreased overall spending from the tentative budget recommended by the Expanded Budget Committee and endorsed by the Legislature two weeks ago.

Legislators, by a vote of 9 to 5, (with Legislators Luz Herrera, Sigler, Randall, Mike Hattery and Mike Koplinka-Loehr voting no) approved over-target funding for an additional Corrections Officer at the jail, at a cost of $56,596 (an expenditure which also reflects a $10,000 reduction in the department’s overtime budget).  Legislator Martha Robertson called the addition of the position a “difficult decision” but one in which the Legislature is accepting responsibility of not expanding the jail a few years ago and the extra workload it has produced, related to the boarding out of inmates.  Legislator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne predicted that the same issue will be faced each year until a “real, definitive decision” is made regarding a new facility.

The Legislature, in a 10-4 vote (Legislators Frank Proto, Dooley Kiefer, Jim Dennis and Martha Robertson voting no) further reduced over-target support for Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit (TCAT) by an additional $10,833, reducing the County’s contribution from 6 to 5 percent, which matches the level of support approved by the City of Ithaca in its 2008 budget.  There was much discussion regarding whether the County should reduce its contribution to match the City’s support, but Chair Tim Joseph maintained failing to keep contributions even would set a poor precedent and that the partnership arrangement involving the county, the city and Cornell should be maintained.  As one of the County’s representatives on the TCAT board, Legislator Luz Herrera predicted the decision would produce some hardship, and legislators Frank Proto and Pam Mackesey remarked that other key institutions in this community need to be brought in to ease the burden on the County and other partners.

Also related to TCAT, legislators, by a unanimous vote, approved an $85,483 adjustment, reducing expense for a Chief Transportation Planner.  Full support of the position through federal grant funds and TCAT had not been included as revenue in the tentative budget.

By unanimous  vote, $2,200 to support copier expense for the Tompkins County Human Rights Commission also was changed from one-time to target funding, to correct a clerical error.

Before adoption, legislators reflected on this year’s budget review, and thanked departments and agencies for a productive process.  Budget chair Mike Koplinka-Loehr said he appreciates all the work of departments and administration and that he hopes that “the balancing act that we do every year is satisfactory to the public.”  Legislator Jim Dennis, who pointed out that he had been a “no goal person,” said he now believes the Legislature’s 2 percent tax levy goal produced needed focus in the budget process.   Calling a goal “the end toward which effort is directed,” Nathan Shinagawa observed that the 2 percent goal, while not met, directed all “to get the most out of county government at a reasonable cost.” 

Even some of those who ultimately voted against the budget praised the process.  While she said she would not vote in favor of the budget because the Brown Road location for a new Health Department headquarters is included in the capital program,  Kathy Luz Herrera characterized the 2008 budget process as “more fair and more transparent” than in previous years.  And while he said he would vote against the budget because of its level of expenditures and reduction of the fund balance, Mike Hattery said he appreciated the budget the County Administrator presented and the 2 percent target the Legislature set.  County Administrator Steve Whicher again commended department heads for working hard to “face the budget challenge up-front” and he recognized legislators for their effective work, as well.

Comparison of 2007 and 2008 adopted Tompkins County budgets:

Local Share  (spending on local programs; revenue raised from the local community, primarily through property and sales tax):
2007:  $71,208,564
2008:  $72,485,255

Property Tax Levy  (total amount to be collected from owners of taxable property):
2007:  $34,787186 (Percent change: +5.09)
2008:  $35 768,597 (Percent change: +2.82)

Property Tax Rate (amount per $1,000 of assessed property value):
2007:  $6.76 (Percent change:  +2.6)
2008:  $6.86 (Percent change:  +1.5)

County Property Tax change for home assessed at $100,000:  $10.03

Contacts:   Tim Joseph, Chair of the Legislature, 277-2519; Michael Koplinka-Loehr, Chair, Budget and Capital Committee, 257-2329; Steve Whicher, County Administrator, 274-5551.

Among other actions, the Legislature

§ Expressed official support of a county-wide evaluation of water and sewer infrastructure and development of a conceptual plan of water and sewer infrastructure needs.  The study would support future planned growth to meet the county’s housing and economic development goals, updating the last evaluation conducted seven years ago.  The vote was 12-2; Legislators Mike Koplinka-Loehr and Kathy Luz Herrera voted no. The evaluation is supported by the county’s Economic Development Collaborative and the Tompkins County Council of Governments.  The Legislature supported Tompkins County’s application, on behalf of the Council of Governments, for New York State Shared Municipal Services Incentive Grant funding, which could support 90 percent of the study’s cost.

§ Authorized acceptance of a ten-year master grant agreement from the New York State Department of Transportation to provide matching grants for projects funded under the federal airport improvement program, at Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport.  The grant agreement includes nearly $41,000 in assistance for improvements at the airport in 2007.

§ Authorized a funding agreement with the state Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) to rehabilitate the historic Forest Home Drive bridge over Fall Creek.  Under NYSDOT requirements, the County will advance nearly $1.2 million, representing the total non-federal costs, then will seek reimbursement.  The Legislature also authorized a contract with Erdman, Anthony and Associates, Inc. of Rochester, for design and construction support services for the Forest Home Bridge project, for an amount not to exceed $210,000.

§ Accepted a $600,000 Small Cities Community Development Block Grant to support the County’s Home Ownership Program for first-time homebuyers.

§ Authorized a public hearing to be held on a proposed local law amending the Tompkins County Code regarding the County’s Code of Ethics.  (The vote was 12-2, with Legislators Joseph and Koplinka-Loehr dissenting.)  The hearing will be held Tuesday December 4, beginning at 5:30 p.m. in Legislative Chambers at the County Courthouse, 320 N. Tioga Street in Ithaca

§ Set January 2, 2008 as the date of the Legislature’s 2008 organization meeting.