Highlights of the May 20, 2008 meeting
of the
Tompkins County Legislature
County Returns to Annual Assessment Cycle
Tompkins County will return to an annual assessment cycle for the next assessment year beginning July 1st, ending the three-year assessment system used since 2006.  By unanimous vote of those present, the County Legislature directed that all properties in the county “be valued at a uniform percentage of fair market value and reviewed by the professional appraisal staff of the Department of Assessment at one-year time intervals,” rescinding the resolution adopted in 2006 which authorized full-value assessment every three years.  (Legislators Will Burbank, Mike Sigler and Kathy Luz Herrera were absent.)  Assessment Director Valeria Coggin has called annual reassessment the County’s “most logical choice” in terms of equity, transparency and as the form of assessment most understandable for property owners, and legislators agreed – even those who had voted for the triennial system when it was approved two years ago.  Legislator Martha Robertson recalled that back in 2006 she had characterized the triennial system as “an experiment,” and was one of many who described the three-year program as confusing.  Dooley Kiefer expressed relief at return to the annual reassessment, saying, “We know it works; it’s what the County was known for doing for a long time, and I’m glad we’re back.”  Greg Stevenson, who had initially voted no at the committee level because of sentiments expressed by constituents, said effective information presented by the Assessment Department comparing the annual and triennial systems changed his mind, and that he now believes that annual revaluation is “clearly the fairest” program.  “Folks were looking for some way to keep their taxes from skyrocketing,” he stated.  “Exercising as much fiscal restraint as we can will get us to that end.”  Had the County remained with the triennial cycle, it would have lost out on $300,000 in state maintenance aid over the three-year cycle, . 
Contact:  Director of Assessment Valeria Coggin, 274-5517; Legislator Michael Hattery, Chair, Government Operations Committee, 844-4361, Legislator Greg Stevenson,  273-2439.

Legislature Declines to Modify Award Process for Tourism Program Contracts
After considerable discussion, the Legislature defeated a proposal which would have delegated approval authority for certain tourism program contracts, funded through county room tax dollars.  Under the proposal, the Legislature would have delegated to the County’s Strategic Tourism Planning Board (STPB) and County Administration the authority to award all single-year tourism contracts and grants of less than $30,000.  The measure failed by a vote of 5-7, with Planning, Development and Environmental Quality Chair Martha Robertson, and Legislators Jim Dennis, Greg Stevenson, Nathan Shinagawa and Carol Chock voting in favor.  (Legislators Will Burbank, Mike Sigler and Kathy Luz Herrera were absent.)  Proponents had argued that the STPB already conducts an exhausting, time-consuming and thoughtful review of each application, and that multiple layers of review are now required beyond that, amounting often to what Robertson said often feels like “micromanaging and second-guessing.”  The new policy, she said, would free up her committee to devote time to strategic trends regarding the grants programs.  Chair Mike Koplinka-Loehr characterized it as the County’s duty to maintain fiscal oversight.  Several alternatives were proposed, then failed, before the final vote – amendments that would have set the threshold amount at $15,000 or $25,000, or have maintained Legislature review for only the Community Celebrations grant program.  A proposal to postpone action for one month also failed by a 5-7 vote.
Contact:  Martha Robertson, Chair, Planning , Development, and Environmental Quality Committee, 272-0584; Michael Koplinka-Loehr, Chair of the Legislature 274-5434 or 257-2329

Local Law Adopted Amending County Ethics Code
The Legislature, by unanimous vote, adopted a new Local Law which amends the Tompkins County Code of Ethics.  The Local Law amends the section of the Tompkins County Code to include in the Code of Ethics a formal provision which bars any misuse of position by an officer or employee of the County.  (Legislators Will Burbank, Mike Sigler and Kathy Luz Herrera were absent.)  The provision states that “no municipal officer or employee of the County shall use or attempt to use his/her official position to advance his/her private interest or the interest of others to obtain any unwarranted privileges, exemptions or advantages for the officer, employee or others.”  The local law takes effect upon filing with the Secretary of State.
Contact:  Legislator Dooley Kiefer, 257-7453, Chair, Tompkins County Board of Ethics; Legislator Michael Hattery, Chair, Government Operations Committee, 844-4361.

Ten Ithaca High Students Share Designation as Distinguished Youth
Members of Ithaca High School’s 2008 Nosanchuk Committee are this month’s recipients of Tompkins County’s Distinguished Youth Award.  Honored are students Timothy Cramton, Dhiki Drury, Amy Golinker, Kaspar Kuehn, Laura Komor, Zach Montague, Alexander Sahn, Miriam Tohill, Bjorn Whitmore and Nathan Winans.  Nominated by IHS English teacher Eileen Bach, the students are honored for their work in planning a lecture series, aimed at stimulating thoughtful discussion among students, in memory of David Nosanchuk, an IHS senior who died in a tragic swimming accident the week  before his high school graduation 25 years ago.   The Tompkins County 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 actions, the Legislature

§ By a vote of 10-2 (Legislators Mackesey and Chair Koplinka-Loehr dissenting) tabled a member-filed resolution of support for continued County sponsorship of the Women/Infants/Children (WIC) nutrition program.  Legislator Tyke Randall expressed strong support for the program and many of his colleagues agreed, but most indicated that written information is needed from the state about the recently announced one-year extension of the program contract before any stand is taken.

§ Approved a County conservation easement for property on Breed Road, bisected by Locke Creek, in the Town of Lansing.  The parcel is on this year’s list of foreclosed properties, and the county Planning Department has determined that the portion of the property that borders the stream will enhance water quality and wetlands protection.  The parcel will be sold, encumbered by the conservation easement, in the 2008 auction of foreclosed properties.

§ Appropriated $10,000 from the County’s capital reserve fund for natural, scenic and recreational resource protection for a portion of the Hanson property as part of the Lick Brook Corridor Initiative, in cooperation with  the Finger Lakes Land Trust.  The Trust is acquiring the property, which is identified as a priority protection area in the Tompkins County Conservation Plan, and will provide public access to the site.  Legislator Carol Chock called the area “a true treasure” of a natural resource to be preserved through partnership.  Legislator Frank Proto cautioned that the County should be concerned about helping to underwrite a private organization purchase in these challenging budget times, noting that the Land Trust funding has been estimated at close to $1 million.

§ Authorized the County Health Department to submit a Certificate of Need application to the New York State Department of Health for construction and renovations at the new Health Department building at 55 Brown Road.  The certificate is required because of the department’s role in operating a certified home health agency and a diagnostic and treatment center.

§ Authorized $600,000 awarded the County under the federal Small Cities Community Development Block Grant program to be used to continue the County’s homeownership program, serving low-to-moderate-income first-time homebuyers.  The funds will assist up to 20 families to become first-time homeowners.

§ Scheduled a public hearing on proposed additions to county Agricultural District No. 1, on the east side of Cayuga Lake.  The hearing will take place June 3, 2008, beginning at 5:30 p.m. at Legislative Chambers at the Tompkins County Courthouse, 320 N. Tioga Street, Ithaca.