Highlights of the March 4, 2008 meeting
of the
Tompkins County Legislature
Legislature Makes Recommendations on New York State Budget
In a dozen separate actions, the Legislature took official stands on elements of Governor Eliot Spitzer’s executive budget, weighing in on provisions which will be under review by the New York State Legislature until a 2008-2009 state budget is passed.

Except as otherwise noted below, the measures were approved by unanimous votes of those present (11-0), with Legislators Mike Hattery, Pam Mackesey and Mike Sigler absent and the District 12 seat formerly held by Tim Joseph, vacant.  Legislators approved the following recommendations concerning the budget:

§ Urged that budgetary language be included to increase local probation reimbursement from a current level of less than 20 percent, to 50 percent, as specified by New York State Executive Law.

§ Called for counties to be held harmless for any state-mandated increases in District Attorney’s salaries that would arise from recommended increases in state judicial salaries.  Failure to completely cover a mandated increase for District Attorney salaries, the resolution states, will produce an additional $26,000 cost for Tompkins County.

§ Opposed a proposed cost-shift for public assistance, which would increase the county share by two percent while decreasing the State’s share by two percent.  Legislators also opposed the related proposal to implement a local share for public assistance for two-parent families.  The provisions, the measure projects, would produce a $106,000 local cost.

§ Urged that Tompkins County be removed from fiscal and programmatic responsibility for the preschool special education program.  The measure applauds the Governor for the proposed 4 percent cap on county expenses beginning this budget year, but advocates that the cap be examined and structured to maximize savings and long-term benefits and that counties ultimately be removed from any responsibility for the program.

§ Opposed a provision that would force the County to assume full cost of youth placed by Family Court in juvenile detention facilities, a provision projected to increase county cost by $100,000.

§ Called upon the State to assume an equitable approach in any fiscal restructuring related to non-inpatient mental health services.

§ Supported proposed additional state funding for local public health initiatives.  $20 million in funding is proposed for local public health services, including disease control, family health and environmental health services.

§ By a vote of 9-2 (Legislators Frank Proto and Tyke Randall opposed), supported the Governor’s proposal that would permit counties to exercise the local option to increase document recording fees at County Clerk’s Offices.  The resolution states that the current fee structure fails to cover local costs associated with essential services (which Proto indicated he did not agree with) and projects that increasing fees, as permitted under the proposal, could produce more than $300,000 in annual revenue.

§ Called upon the State to end the practice of passing costs for state programs to county government and local taxpayers.  The measure recommends that State policy makers eliminate unnecessary state requirements and require state payment for mandates deemed essential.

§ By a vote of 9-2 (Legislators Proto and Kathy Luz Herrera dissenting), supported the Governor’s proposal to restructure and augment state programs to assist local shared services and  consolidation efforts.  As part of that resolution, the measure, as passed, urges that the Governor and State Legislature increase funding four-fold, to $100 million, as recommended by the Local Government Commission on Efficiency and Competitiveness.  An amendment which would have eliminated that recommended fund increase failed by a vote of 5-6.

§ By a vote of 8-3 (Legislators Greg Stevenson, Carol Chock and Kathy Luz Herrera opposed)
, called upon the State to refrain from enacting new public employee benefit mandates, to assist in curtailing rising property taxes.  The measure urges that, as a first step in achieving promised reduction in the local property tax burden, no new personnel cost mandates be enacted, and that none be enacted before the Commission on Property Tax Relief has issued its report.

§ Urged a greater state commitment to maintain the safety and integrity of local highways and bridges.   Calling the local system “woefully under-funded,” the resolution applauds the Governor’s recognition of construction and maintenance needs of local bridges and urges increased funding support for other local transportation programs, to ensure the safety of the local transportation system.

Contact:  Michael Koplinka-Loehr, Chair of the Legislature 274-5434 or 257-2329.

Among other actions, Legislators

§ Heard a special presentation by Elections Commission Elizabeth Cree and Deputy Commissioner Tom Paolangeli on the new Sequoia ImageCast optical scan voting machines.  The optical scan ballot marking devices will be used beginning with this fall’s elections.

§ Accepted a $35.600 grant from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services to support a collaborative effort involving Tompkins County, Cayuga Medical Center, the Advocacy Center of Tompkins County, Cornell Police and the Human Services Coalition to fund  initiatives for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

§ Authorized a construction funding agreement with the state Department of Transportation (DOT) for replacement of the Ringwood Road bridge over Cascadilla Creek, approving more than $400,000 in total funding costs.  The County will then file for reimbursement of eligible costs from the DOT.

§ Authorized a lease extension with the federal Transportation Security Administration for office and operational space in the passenger terminal at Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport.