Highlights of the May 6, 2008 meeting
of the
Tompkins County Legislature
Legislature Sets 3 Percent Tax Levy Increase Goal for 2009
The Legislature tonight took the first step toward preparation of a 2009 Tompkins County budget, establishing a financial goal of a maximum tax levy increase in 2009 of 3 percent.  The 3 percent levy increase goal was approved by a vote of 11-4, with Legislators Martha Robertson, Greg Stevenson, Dooley Kiefer and Tyke Randall voting no.

A 3 percent increase in the tax levy (the total amount of property tax revenue needed to balance the budget) would carry with it a projected 11.2 percent decrease in the tax rate (the amount paid by taxpayers per thousand dollars assessed property value), a rate of $6.09 per thousand.  The tax rate would decrease because Tompkins County assessed property values, as documented in the 2008 revaluation, have increased by 16 percent compared to last year’s level.  Achieving the 3 percent goal will require a nearly $2 million decrease in locally controlled spending.  The Legislature also resolved to continue the process of stabilizing the level of tax levy change during 2009.  The resolution notes that the current rate of inflation is just under 4 percent.

A tax levy increase of 8.6 percent is projected to be required, were the County to maintain current efforts in 2009.  Primary factors affecting the budget are a decrease in state aid to the County of at least 2 percent (more that $800,000) and projected increases in public health and social services mandates, as well as increases in capital/debt service costs, salary/fringe benefits, and facilities expense.

County Finance Director David Squires provided a grim warning to the Legislature, predicting that because of the State’s unprecedented budget deficit, currently projected at $27 billion over a three-year period, this will be the most difficult budget yet and, because of the delayed impact of ongoing state cost shifts, whatever the  target, it will be extraordinarily difficult to meet that target without significant cuts in services.

Legislator Pam Mackesey proposed a 3.5 percent levy increase goal, which she characterized as frugal, but more realistic.  That proposal, supported by Legislators Mackesey, Martha Robertson, Will Burbank, Carol Chock, Will Burbank, Nathan Shinagawa and Dooley Kiefer, failed by a vote of 6-9.  Robertson said, with people dependent on County services, the Legislature should recognize that a higher goal is needed, although serious program cuts will still be required.  As one who supported the 3 percent goal, Legislator Mike Sigler said the County must prepare for a likely recession that would not be over quickly, and that the 3 percent goal is “not only adequate, but desirable.”  Legislators Greg Stevenson and Tyke Randall both characterized the 3 percent goal as too high.  Stevenson  said his constituency “isn’t afraid we will cut program; they want us to cut program.”

Legislator Frank Proto said what’s needed now is to carefully review county programs and to prioritize.  Budget and Capital Committee Chair Nathan Shinagawa said his committee will begin to discuss proposed alternatives to reduce spending, beginning next month.
Contact:  Nathan Shinagawa, Chair, Budget and Capital Committee, 280-7557; Legislator Pamela Mackesey, 273-6203; Legislator Michael Sigler, 339-7978; Legislator Greg Stevenson, 273-2439.

Legislature Welcomes Will Burbank
After operating one legislator short for the past two months, the Legislature has returned to its full complement of members.  Legislators welcomed their newest colleague, Democrat Will Burbank, elected in a special election April 22nd to fill out the unexpired term of Tim Joseph as the representative of District 12, Town of Ithaca.  Legislator Frank Proto said he enjoyed working with Mr. Burbank in Burbank’s prior role as town board member and Deputy Supervisor of the Town of Ithaca and said he expects his new colleague to  contribute wel
l to the work of the Legislature.  Burbank thanked his colleagues for the warm welcome and said he looks forward to working together effectively for the public good.
Contact:  Legislator Will Burbank, 272-7555.

Public Hearing Scheduled on County Code of Ethics
The Legislature, by unanimous vote, scheduled a public hearing on a proposed modification to the County’s Code of Ethics, determined by local law.  The hearing will be held on Tuesday, May 20, 2008, beginning at 5:30 p.m. at Legislative Chambers of the Tompkins County Courthouse, 320 N. Tioga Street, Ithaca.  The proposed change would add a provision to the Code concerning misuse of position, declaring that no municipal officer or employee of the County shall use of attempt to use the individual’s official position to advance private interests or obtain unwarranted privileges, exemptions or other advantages.  A proposal to schedule a public hearing on another proposed code change  failed by a 6-9 vote.  That proposal would have required elected officials and key employees to file an annual disclosure statements by an earlier deadline of January 30th each year.  Voting no were Legislators Frank Proto, Mike Koplinka-Loehr, Kathy Luz Herrera, Martha Robertson, Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, Tyke Randall, Michael Hattery, Carol Chock and Nathan Shinagawa.
Contact:  Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Hattery, 844-4361, Legislator Dooley Kiefer, Chair, County Ethics Advisory Board, 257-7453.

Among other actions, the Legislature

§ Approved continuation and revisions to Agricultural District No. 2, adding 152 acres of property located in the Town of Danby and removing 531 acres of property located in the Towns of Ithaca and Ulysses.  The measure passed by a vote of 10-2, Legislators Kiefer and Mackesey dissenting.  Some legislators expressed concern that the changes might potentially contribute to urban sprawl, but said that, on balance, the public process involved in the changes was followed and that the Legislature should abide by that process.

§ Declared that a runway safety improvements and obstruction clearance project at Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport would not carry adverse environmental impact and awarded the contract for the project to Sealand Contractors, of Rush, New York for its bid of $3,197,872.  With most of the project supported by federal funds, the local share of project cost is just under $80,000.

§ Awarded more than 30 tourism grants, funded through the county Room Occupancy Tax Budget, totaling more than $180,000.  The grants include a $15,000 tourism capital grant to the Cayuga Waterfront Trail Initiative to support a feasibility study of a rehabilitation action plan for Ithaca’s Stewart Park.