Highlights of the April 15, 2008 meeting
of the
Tompkins County Legislature
Budget Chair Warns of a Tough Budget Year in 2009
Reporting on preliminary preparations for the 2009 budget process, Budget and Capital Committee Chair Nathan Shinagawa predicted that 2009 will be a difficult budget year and cautioned that development of a 2009 County Budget will produce difficult challenges for lawmakers, especially because of the expected impact of state aid reductions, included in the just-passed 2008-09 state budget.

Mr. Shinagawa reported that the State Legislature cut county state aid across the board by 2 percent, effective April 1, 2008, with an additional 2 percent cut in fiscal years 2009 and possibly 2010.  The 2 percent reduction will negatively impact Tompkins County’s fund balance in 2008 by nearly $400,000, with an additional 2 percent reduction in 2009 projected to increase the county tax levy by 2 percent, or $700,000.  All of this is dependent upon how each state agency chooses to handle this cut, he added.  It is always possible that the state agency could retain funds for its own internal operations and pass on a greater percentage reduction to the counties.  Added to this, he said, is a projected $840,000 increase in mandates, with interest earnings projected to decrease by about $400,000.  “This will be an incredibly difficult budget year, said Shinagawa, “and we have a difficult challenge before us.”

As legislators prepare for the Legislature’s annual budget retreat later this month, the committee chair advised that the Legislature need to be especially conscious of its spending and how to make most optimal use of county taxpayer dollars.
Contact:  Nathan Shinagawa, Chair, Budget and Capital Committee, 280-7557.

Legislators Urge Preservation of Federal Highway Aid
Facing an anticipated loss of $4.9 million in federal highway funds from projects scheduled for 2007 but delayed, the Legislature by unanimous vote of those present asked the Federal Highway Administration reinstate and continue funding for five local projects and urged that action be taken to prevent impact on others that are pending.  (Legislators Kathy Luz Herrera, Tyke Randall, Mike Sigler and Chair Mike Koplinka-Loehr were absent; the District 12 seat is vacant.)  Affected would be the Warren Road, Coddington Road and Hanshaw Road Reconstructions; the McLean Road Bridge over Fall Creek, and the Station Road Culvert over Cayuga Inlet.  While past federal practice has been to roll over funding into subsequent years if funding is approved but projects delayed, this year such funding was unexpectedly rescinded.  Facilities and Infrastructure Committee Vice Chair Dooley Kiefer characterized the action as an “emergency appeal” to the county’s federal and state legislators.
Contact:  Dooley Kiefer, Facilities and Infrastructure Committee, , 257-7453.

County and Lifelong Investigating Joint Facility
The Legislature, by unanimous vote of those present, authorized the County to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding to proceed with investigation into possible joint facilities for Lifelong and the County Office for the Aging (COFA).  The new facility under study would address mutual needs – the County’s need to relocate COFA’s offices from the ground floor of the County Courthouse to provide additional space for the state court system and Lifelong’s need to expand to meet increasing service demands.  As a first step, Lifelong will conduct a feasibility study, to which the County will provide financial support proportional to the space it would occupy in a new facility, not to exceed $10,000.  Further Legislature authorization would be required for County involvement to move beyond the feasibility stage.
Contact:  Frank Proto, Chair, Health and Human Services Committee, 277-4875; Lisa Holmes, Director, County Office for the Aging, 274-5482.
Legislature Ratifies Two-Year Agreement with Blue Collar Unit
By unanimous vote of  those present, the Legislature ratified a new two-year contract with the County’s Blue Collar employees. The agreement, which has already been ratified by members of the Civil Service Employees Association Blue Collar unit, provides a 3 percent increase in base salary, effective January 1, 2008, a 1 percent increase effective October 1, 2008, and a 3 percent increase, as of January 1, 2009, with other monetary changes such as an increase in shift premium, and modifications in sick leave, clothing allowance and compensatory time provisions.  The new agreement succeeds a contract that expired at the end of last year.
Contact:  James Dennis, Chair, Human Resources Committee, 387-4058.

Administrator Reports Progress in Discussions Regarding Statewide Wireless Network
County Administrator Steve Whicher told legislators he has received positive communication from the New York State Office for Technology (OFT), which indicates a continued interest in partnering with the County to extend the Statewide Wireless Network (SWN) through use of the County’s new Public Safety Communications System.  A letter just received from OFT Director Dr. Melodie Mayberry-Stewart commends the County’s public safety leaders for their “foresightedness” in moving the communications system upgrade from concept to reality and for requiring that the local system be designed to SWN standards.  The letter also expresses appreciation for the County’s offer to make its entire communications infrastructure available to SWN, indicating that a partnership with the County would align well with OFT goals.  While indicating she is “committed to finalizing an agreement with Tompkins County,” the director adds that results of the current round of acceptance testing in western New York must be reviewed and the state’s contractor authorized to extend SWN throughout the rest of the state before any additional agreements can be executed.  The County has proposed a $750,000 annual payment from SWN for use of the County’s emergency communications system infrastructure.
Contact:  County Administrator Stephen Whicher, 274-5551.

Highway Employee Jerry Stern Honored Through County Proclamation
Citing his professional skills, his genuine and kind nature, and his ongoing understanding and support of diversity and inclusion, the Legislature honored Highway Technician and Worksite Traffic Control Supervisor Jerry Stern with a surprise proclamation, proclaiming May 6, 2008 as “Jerry Stern Day in Tompkins County” in honor of “his commitment to diversity, his selfless acts of kindness and his strong encouragement of others as they attempt to better their lives.”  Mr. Stern is recognized as an active and essential member of the Skilled Trades Diversity Council, for his influential role in involving the County in the Central New York Careers in Construction Day, and for putting in place the county’s Pre-Construction Preparedness Program.  Mr. Stern also received an Outstanding Service Award from the Skilled Trades Diversity Council.
Contact:  Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, Vice Chair of the Legislature, 277-5104.

Will Hine Recognized as County Distinguished Youth
Called “an outstanding 19-year-old citizen of Tompkins County, Will Hine, of Varna was honored as April’s Distinguished Youth.  Will was nominated by three of his colleagues from the Varna Volunteer Fire Company for exemplary service as a member of the company since joining in December of 2006.  Among his achievements, he was the company’s second highest responder in 2007, responding to 58 percent (nearly 200) of the company’s emergency calls. His sponsors state, “It is hard to believe that Will is only 19.  We think the county should be proud of someone who gives this much to volunteering, and we believe that he could go far in serving the people around him throughout his life.”  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.

Among other business, the Legislature

Provided official support to the Tompkins County Council of Governments’ review of a shared services employee health benefits program for county municipalities.  The action authorizes the County to enter into an inter-municipal agreement to participate in the review of how a health benefits consortium would be developed.

Awarded to Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County nearly $130,000 in Federal Transit Administration funds, under the Jobs Access and Reverse Commute grant program, for the agency’s proposal to provide a comprehensive consumer education and outreach program on transportation alternatives for county residents.  The RIDEWISE program will provide accessible information on current and future transportation options targeted to people with low incomes and those with disabilities, as well as to the general public.  The Legislature also authorized the Department of Social Services to receive a $70,000 federal Community Solutions for Transportation Grant, to be administered through the state, for transportation services to those receiving family assistance and other low-income residents.  Much of the grant will be used for ridesharing, a guaranteed ride and subscription van, as well as to support RIDEWISE and the TCAT bus pass program.

Approved just over $8,500 from the Contingent Fund to permit purchase of two hybrid vehicles by the Health Department, the inaugural appropriation under the County “Green Fleet” program.  The 2008 budget includes $50,000 in the Contingent Fund to support the marginal cost of purchase of “green” vehicles that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Urged the State Legislature to approve pending legislation to amend the Mental Hygiene Law which would limit to a maximum of 30 days counties’ fiscal responsibility for court-ordered confinement of patients held in state in-patient facilities.  The resolution maintains that such confinement at local government expense would amount to “an exorbitant, unanticipated mandate.”