Highlights of the January 15, 2008 meeting
of the
Tompkins County Legislature
Legislature Authorizes Acquisition of Brown Road Health Department Site
After more than an hour of reflective and sometimes emotional discussion, the Legislature by a vote of 11- 4 gave the go-ahead for the County to acquire facilities at 55 Brown Road in the Village of Lansing for a new headquarters for the Tompkins County Health Department.  Legislators Kathy Luz Herrera, Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, Frank Proto and Greg Stevenson voted against authorization, and also voted against other actions leading up to the final vote..

The action authorizes the County to acquire the building, through a purchase-lease agreement, from Cornell Real Estate at a cost of $3 million.  Last August, the Legislature authorized County Administrator Steve Whicher to negotiate purchase of the building and to complete an evaluation, including an environmental impact review.  Since last fall, the Health Department Building Construction Committee has reviewed consultants’ conceptual drawings for the building and recently advised that, considering construction/renovation options, including potential additions if needed, that the facility would be adequate to meet the Health Department’s present and future needs.  The Facilities and Infrastructure Committee today recommended acquisition in a split vote of 3-2. 

Before considering the authorization itself, legislators, also by a vote of 11-4, approved the determination that acquisition of the Brown Road property for the Health Department will not produce significant negative environmental impact.  Legislator Proto unsuccessfully advanced a recommendation that a long-form environmental assessment be performed regarding the Brown Road site, a study that would measure social and economic, as well as environmental factors.  Moving the Health Department headquarters away from proximity with Cayuga Medical Center will produce environmental impact through additional driving that will be necessary to fulfill program functions, Luz Herrera maintained. That recommendation failed by a vote of 4-11, with only Legislators Proto, Luz Herrera, McBean-Clairborne and Stevenson voting in favor. 

Opponents Frank Proto, who had chaired the Health Department Building Committee which had studied site options and had favored building a new headquarters adjacent to the current Biggs B location, characterized the Brown Road site as “adequate,” but “a poor use of taxpayer money.”  Both Proto and Luz Herrera said that more information was needed before the Legislature made its decision.  Luz Herrera expressed concern that, without that information, including comparable cost figures, the County would never know for sure that opting for Brown Road rather than building new would produce the $4.5 million cost saving that has been projected.

All the opponents, and even some supporters, expressed concern that the process that led to this point was flawed.  Stevenson called the process “not as open as it should have been” because of confidentiality restrictions and McBean-Clairborne criticized it as “rushed.”  Legislator Pam Mackesey, who supported the Brown Road acquisition, apologized to Health Department staff for asking for their input, then restricting information.

Legislator Martha Robertson said the Legislature has “an obligation to the taxpayer” to not spend more money repairing the Biggs Building, and to select a new site expected to produce significant cost savings.  Tim Joseph, who chaired the Legislature during the site selection process, observed that the vehement debate over the Brown Road location does not acknowledge “honest differences” in opinion regarding what is best.  Tyke Randall, who had initially voted against Brown Road because of anger over the process, told his colleagues that he had had a lot of questions, but all were answered.  “We’re at a time now,” he said, “when we need to put aside the anger and the frustrations.”  Jim Dennis praised staff for a “commendable job” in providing information and moving the project forward.
Contact:  Contact:; Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, Chair, Facilities and Infrastructure Committee, 277-5104; Planning and Public Works Commissioner Ed Marx, 274-5560; Kathy Luz Herrera, 273-8169; Tim Joseph, , 277-2519.

Legislature Approves IDA Bonds for TC3 Improvements
The Legislature, by unanimous vote, authorized issuance of up to $18.5 million in tax-exempt county Industrial Development Agency Civic Facility Revenue Bonds to the Tompkins Cortland Community College Foundation, to support construction of additional student housing at TC3.  Two residence halls are planned to built on a 70-acre parcel of land on Far View Drive in the Town of Dryden.  The approval authorizes the IDA to act as a conduit for project financing, enabling the college foundation to access tax-free bonds under provision of the federal internal revenue code and does not incur any County financial obligation to the project.  State legislation authorizing civic facility revenue bonds is scheduled to sunset as of the end of this month.
Contact:  Martha Robertson, Chair, Planning , Development, and Environmental Quality Committee, 272-0584

Legislature Establishes 2008 Management Salaries
The Legislature, by unanimous vote, set 2008 salaries for the County’s managerial personnel.  Employees will receive a salary increase of 3 percent, if their salary is equal to the current County pay scale.  Two managerial employees whose salary is not in alignment with the current schedule will receive increases of 2.25 percent.  In December, a similar measure failed by a tied 6-6 vote, with two legislators absent.  At that time, opponents had expressed concern that giving managerial staff a 3 percent increase now, when bargaining units were still in negotiation, could unduly influence contract negotiations.
Contact:  Contact:  James Dennis, Chair, Human Resources Committee, 387-4058.
Legislature Learns About 2008 Assessment Revaluation
The Legislature heard a special presentation from Assessment Director Valeria Coggin on the 2008 countywide assessment revaluation.  Assessment disclosure notices, notifying property owners of their preliminary 2008 assessments, will be mailed to property owners throughout the county beginning January 25th.  This year is the third year of the county’s triennial revaluation cycle, approved by the Legislature in 2006.  Whereas during 2006 and 2007, property assessments represented a fraction of the properties’ fair market value (85 percent for 2007), in 2008 all of the county’s 34,500 properties are assessed at 100 percent of their fair market value.  Director Coggin invited property owners to contact her office to discuss their preliminary assessments, saying that her staff values the information that property owners provide as part of the assessment process.  “We are more than happy to answer your questions,” the director told lawmakers.
Contact:  Valeria Coggin, Director of Assessment, 274-5517.

GIAC Theatre Students Receive Distinguished Youth Award
Eight students participating in the Theatre Project of the Greater Ithaca Center Teen Program were honored as this month’s Tompkins County Distinguished Youth. Honored were students Dailo Marte, Jr., Orande McBean, Jamal Booker, Patrick Booker, Naomi Fisher, Taleema Brooks, Johnathan Reed, and Arthur Jenkins.  Nominated by Patrice Lockert Anthony, Community Educator with Tompkins County Cooperative Extension, the students were recognized for producing monologues on individuals who have inspired them and performing these monologues publicly, including during the upcoming Martin Luther King celebrations this coming weekend.  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.