Highlights of the June 3, 2008 meeting
of the
Tompkins County Legislature
Legislature Stands By Award Process for Some Tourism Program Contracts
For its second meeting in a row, the Legislature considered, but failed to change the way in which the County awards some tourism grants, which are funded by county room tax dollars. 

Two weeks ago, a proposal which would have delegated to the County’s Strategic Tourism Planning Board (STPB) and County Administration the authority to award some single-year tourism contracts and grants failed by a vote of 5-7, with three legislators absent.  Tonight, after considerable discussion, a revised measure also failed, by a vote of 7-8. Legislators Mike Sigler, Greg Stevenson, Mike Hattery, Kathy Luz Herrera, Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, Frank Proto and Tyke Randall, and Chair Mike Koplinka-Loehr voting no.

The revised proposal, advanced by Legislator Pam Mackesey, would have reduced the threshold amount for the awards from $30,000 to $25,000, and would have kept authorization of Community Celebrations grants with the Legislature.  It was pointed out that the tourism grants in question represent only a small fraction of the county tourism program, and that the change would free up the time of the Planning, Development and Environmental Quality Committee to examine strategic issues related to the tourism program.  STPB Chair (and former legislative chair) Stuart Stein, stressed that his board is neutral on the issue, but said that, if the legislature felt it appropriate, the change would benefit grant recipients, who often must wait as long as six weeks for action by the Legislature.

Legislators expressed great appreciation for the tourism board’s excellent work in conducting exhaustive review of the many grant applications each cycle, but those who opposed the proposed change maintained the legislature should still have oversight.  Legislator Frank Proto pointed out that there are not other county advisory boards to which the legislature delegates the responsibility to spend money.  Legislator Kathy Luz Herrera proposed that the measure be tabled to permit establishment of a new Economic Development Committee, which could review grant requests (which failed for lack of a second); and Proto proposed that the matter be postponed until the first meeting in 2009, to permit such a committee to be formed in the next legislative year; that measure also failed for lack of a second.   Chair Mike Koplinka-Loehr suggested use of a consent agenda at committee meetings, which could help address the time crunch while preserving legislative oversight.
Contact:  Legislator Pamela Mackesey, 273-6203; Martha Robertson, Chair, Planning , Development, and Environmental Quality Committee, 272-0584; Legislator Kathy Luz Herrera, 273-8169.

Legislature Awards Contracts for Airport Improvements
The Legislature awarded three contracts for improvements at Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport.  For all three contracts, nearly all the cost is borne by Federal Aviation Administration and state Transportation Department funds. 

Sealand Contractors of Rush, New York was awarded the contract, contingent upon receipt of grant funds, for construction and relocation of the airport’s parallel taxiway project, for its bid of  nearly $4.5 million (local cost: of just over $112,000).  Approval is contingent upon committee review of asbestos abatement provisions before funds are expended and work begins. The measure was approved by a vote of 12-3, with Legislators  Tyke Randall, Frank Proto and Kathy Luz Herrera opposed.

Ritter and Paratore of Utica, New York was granted the contract , also contingent upon receipt of grant funds, to demolish the former Taughannock Aviation hangar on airport property for its bid of $199,900.  (Local share is $4,997.50.)  The vote was 13-2, with Legislators Luz Herrera and Pam Mackesey opposed.  The Legislature also determined that the project does not carry significant negative environmental impact. 

Much of the opposition on the two contracts came on procedural grounds – the fast-track consideration that was required for such large expenditures, because of schedule delays imposed from Congressional wrangling over release of the federal funding.  Airport Manager Bob Nicholas told legislators the Federal Aviation Administration needed information today.

The Legislature also authorized a consultant agreement with C&S Engineers, Inc. in the amount of $322,285 to construction and contract oversight for federally-mandated safety area improvements and obstruction removal on airport property, with a local cost of $8,057. 
Contact:  Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, Chair, Facilities and Infrastructure Committee, 277-5104; Airport Manager Bob Nicholas, 257-0456.

Legislators Support Grant Application for Pine Tree Road Pedestrian Enhancement Project
By unanimous vote, , the Legislature authorized submission of an application for a state transportation department Transportation Enhancement Program grant to eliminate the old Lehigh Valley railroad bridge over Pine Tree Road in the Town of Ithaca, replacing it with a structure that meets standard specifications, and to enhance the abandoned railway corridor as a pedestrian/bike trail.  The project will be included in the Cornell-Community Transportation Investment Initiative. Tompkins County would be the local sponsor of the project, with up to 80 percent of the cost supported by the grant.  An agreement will be developed involving the Town of Ithaca, Cornell and the County to govern funding, future ownership and maintenance.
Contact:  Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, Chair, Facilities and Infrastructure Committee, 277-5104; Planning and Public Works Commissioner Ed Marx, 274-5560.

Public Hearing Scheduled on Tompkins Cortland Community College Operating Budget
By unanimous vote, the Legislature scheduled a public hearing on the requested 2008-2009 Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3) operating budget.  The hearing will be held on Tuesday, June 17, 2008, beginning at 5:30 p.m. at Legislative Chambers of the County Courthouse, 320 N. Tioga  Street, Ithaca.
Contact:  Nathan Shinagawa, Chair, Budget and Capital Committee, 280-7557.