Highlights of the April 1, 2008 meeting
of the
Tompkins County Legislature
County to Extend County Administrator Search; Administrator Whicher to Remain Through November
Tompkins County will continue its search for a new County Administrator.  At tonight’s meeting of the County Legislature, Chair Michael Koplinka-Loehr reported that a successful candidate has not yet been found to meet the needs of County government.

At the request of the Legislature, Administrator Steve Whicher has agreed to remain as County Administrator for the next several months.  The Legislature without dissent voted to extend Administrator Whicher’s appointment through November 30, 2008.

The County Administrator search will now continue.  Commenting on the process to date, Chair Koplinka-Loehr stated, “We’re tremendously thankful to staff, legislators and community members who have assisted us to this point, and will build on that commitment to secure the highest qualified candidate to meet the needs of Tompkins County.”
Contact:  Michael Koplinka-Loehr, Chair of the Legislature 274-5434 or 257-2329.

Administrator Anticipates Negative County Impact From New State Budget
Administrator Steve Whicher told the Legislature tonight that cost-shifts contained in the just-passed 2008-09 New York State Budget could cost the County close to $400,000 in 2008, and approximately $1.4 million in 2009.  Mr. Whicher reported that, as part of the budget, the State Legislature has cut state aid for counties by 2 percent, effective today.  (The reduction does not affect Medicaid, preschool special education, or other entitlement programs.) 

While the new budget does not include the 2 percent shift of responsibilities for public assistance, as had been proposed in the Governor’s budget, and does not eliminate the State’s share of expenses for youth placed in detention centers, the Administrator indicated that the 4 percent cap on preschool special education expenses discussed earlier has apparently not been included in the budget.  Without the cap, it is estimated that the County’s costs for the preschool special education program would increase by about $600,000 in 2009. 
Mr. Whicher told legislators, “I think it’s safe to say that this will be a tough budget year.”
Contact:  County Administrator Steve Whicher, 274-5551.

Legislators Back Agency Funding:    In a separate action on the State budget, the Legislature also, by unanimous vote (the District 12 seat is vacant), put Tompkins County on record against any policy or fiscal initiative that reduces state funding for “local not-for-profit agencies that provide needed assistance to the taxpayers of Tompkins County.”  The measure states that such reductions would hurt citizens with the greatest need, would greatly increase the property tax burden and could result in programs being seriously reduced or eliminated.  The Human Services Coalition 2-1-1 Program; Better Housing for Tompkins County and Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services; Catholic Charities; Tompkins Learning Partners; the Women’s Opportunity Center; and Neighborhood Legal Services are cited as examples of agencies which could be harmed by possible budget reductions.
Contact:  Nathan Shinagawa, Chair, Budget and Capital Committee, 280-7557.

Legislature Approves Architectural and Design Services for Health Department Building
The Legislature, by a vote of 11-3 approved the firm of Labella Associates, P.C. of Rochester to provide architectural and engineering design services for renovation of the building at 55 Brown Road as offices for the County Health Department, at a cost not to exceed $500,000.  (Legislators Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, Frank Proto and Dooley Kiefer voted no; the District 12 seat is vacant.) Contract proposals were reviewed by the Health Department Building Construction Committee, and the award was recommended by the Legislature’s Facilities and Infrastructure Committee.
Contact:  Legislator Kathy Luz Herrera, Vice-Chair, Facilities and Infrastructure Committee, 273-8169.

Legislature Updated on Health Benefits Study
County Administrator Steve Whicher provided a progress report on the Tompkins County Council of Governments  (TCCOG) initiative to establish a Health Benefits Consortium involving Tompkins County municipalities.  The study is funded by a $266,000 New York State Shared Municipal Services Initiative (SMSI) grant awarded to the County on behalf of TCCOG.  The project seeks “to offer a common employee health insurance program for municipalities that pools health insurance risk and assures reasonable cost sharing, while providing more efficient and fiscally responsible delivery of services.”  The program is projected to be in place by January 1, 2010 and is expected to reduce administrative costs by 8 to 10 percent of premium, increase coverage and health insurance options for smaller municipalities, provide incentives to move to less expensive coverage, and eventually to allow collaboration with other consortiums to reduce the cost of health care.
Contact:  County Administrator Steve Whicher, 274-5551.

Among other business, the Legislature

§ Accepted an Alternatives to Incarceration Amended 2007 Consolidated Service Plan, which directs $26,800 already allocated to the County by New York State to supplement inmate re-entry services provided by the agency Opportunities, Alternatives and Resources (OAR,  formerly known as Offender Aid and Restoration.)

§ Heard from director Dr. Amy Frith and senior clerk Jamaica Breedlove of the Women’s Infants Children (WIC) nutrition program currently based at the Tompkins County Health Department, asking legislators to carefully consider the impact of a proposal to discontinue health department sponsorship of the WIC program, which will be undergoing legislative review.

§ Expressed “sincere appreciation” to W.B. Strong Fire Company and the Freeville Fire Department on the occasion of its 100th anniversary on April 7, 2008, saying that the organization “exemplifies the spirit of volunteerism that traditionally characterizes the discipline of emergency services” and demonstrates “selfless and continuing devotion to the residents and visitors of Tompkins County, the Town of Dryden and the Village of Freeville.”

§ Awarded to the firm We Care Transportation, LLC of Jordan, New York a three-year contract to provide hauling and waste disposal services for Tompkins County at a cost of $47.65 per ton of waste, with an annual increase, based on the consumer price index, not to exceed 3 percent per year.