Highlights of the June 17, 2008 meeting
of the
Tompkins County Legislature
Legislature Sets Fiscal Targets for 2009 Budget
By a vote of 8-5, the Legislature established guidelines for preparation of 2009 County budget by county departments and agencies.  (Legislators Martha Robertson, Will Burbank, Pam Mackesey, Dooley Kiefer and Carol Chock voted no: Legislators Tyke Randall and Leslyn McBean-Clairborne were absent.)  The guidelines keep fiscal targets for not-for-profit agencies and for county municipalities and agencies receiving reimbursement under the Sales Tax Agreement with the City of Ithaca at the level approved in the 2008 adopted budget, and set the target for county departments at the 2008-approved level, plus 2009 negotiated salary increases.   An amendment unsuccessfully proposed by Robertson would also have provided a 3 percent target adjustment for agencies, in recognition of the need to provide increases for staff salaries and benefits,  That proposed amendment failed by an identical 5-8 vote.  Supporters of the amendment had maintained that agency needs must be recognized in a practical and meaningful fashion, in light of the important work agencies do for the County, and that failing to do so sends a clear and negative message.  But others, among them Legislators Frank Proto and Mike Hattery, countered that it is still early in the budget process, and the process should be allowed to work, and the County Administrator provided the latitude needed to craft a budget that meets the Legislature’s 3 percent tax levy increase goal.

The action authorizes County Administrator Steve Whicher to reduce department targets, as needed, to achieve the Legislature’s goal.  The administrator again expressed appreciation to department representatives for their cooperation in ongoing consultations with Administration regarding preparation of the 2009 budget.
Contact:  County Administrator Steve Whicher, 274-5551; Nathan Shinagawa, Chair, Budget and Capital Committee, 280-7557; Legislator Martha Robertson, 272-0584

Legislature Urges Adoption of Federal Carbon Tax
The Legislature has gone on record in support of federal legislation to enact a federal carbon tax, aimed at reducing greenhouse gas, including carbon dioxide, said to be a major contributor to global warming.  The vote was 10-4, with Legislators Frank Proto, Greg Stevenson, Mike Hattery and Mike Sigler voting no; Legislator Tyke Randall was absent.  The county’s Environmental Management Council had recommended county support for the carbon tax.  The action, advanced by Legislator Carol Chock, calls for the carbon tax to be  levied on importers and domestic extractors and refiners of fossil fuels, “with revenues directed to tax relief for low- and moderate-income households and financial support for conservation and sustainable energy programs, with public monitoring to ensure compliance.”  But legislators, also by a 10-4 vote, struck a provision that would have also voiced the Legislature’s support, with conditions, for the so-called “cap-and-auction” approach, as a next-best alternative if a carbon tax fails to pass at the Federal level.  Copies of the resolution will be forwarded to the County’s state and federal representatives and the appropriate Senate and House committees.
Legislator Greg Stevenson called it a complex issue that should have had committee review and said his constituents hadn’t been in touch to ask for any new taxes.  Legislator Mike Hattery added that he didn’t like to “clog the legislative process with everyone’s federal issues.”  But Legislator Martha Robertson said the issue is one the County needs to lead on, one which is “affecting everything we do.”
Contact:  Legislator Carol Chock, 273-9007; Greg Stevenson, Chair, Public Safety Committee, 273-2439.

Tompkins Cortland Community College Operating Budget Approved
By unanimous vote of those present (Legislator Tyke Randall was absent), the Legislature approved the 2008-09 operating budget for Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3).  The $32.3 million budget includes a 5 percent increase in sponsoring counties’ contribution shared by Tompkins and Cortland Counties, a total of $4.1, with Tompkins County’s share of that roughly $2.5 million.

An amendment proposed by Legislator Dooley Kiefer to increase the sponsor contribution to the 6 percent initially sought by the College (which would have produced an increase of approximately $25,000 for Tompkins County) failed by a vote of 6-8.  Supporters characterized the increase as minimal in light of the important work the College performs, but Legislator Kathy Luz Herrera was one who said that she could not in good conscience support a 6 percent increase, at a time when the Legislature has set a 3 percent levy increase goal for the 2009 budget year.

Also approved by the Legislature were two new five-year bargaining agreements with unions representing faculty and professional administrators at TC3.  Terms were not disclosed, pending action by the Cortland County Legislature.
Contact:  Nathan Shinagawa, Chair, Budget and Capital Committee, 280-7557;TC3 President Carl Haynes, 844-8211.

Brothers Zachary and Michael Kirsch Recognized as Distinguished Youth
Dryden High School senior Zachary Kirsch and freshman Michael Kirsch are this month’s recipients of the Legislature’s Distinguished Youth Award, recognized for their many academic, extracurricular, and civic achievements, including their major role in raising money and awareness to help stamp out hunger, through the annual CROP Walk in Dryden.  Glenn Downey, of Dryden, who nominated the brothers for the award, calls them “very ambitious and unselfish workers…always the first ones to offer help to anyone in need.”  The Distinguished Youth Award is sponsored by A&B Awards and Engraving, Bangs Ambulance, Purity Ice Cream and Cayuga Radio Group.
Contact:  Legislature Office, 274-5434.

Among other business, the Legislature

§   Learned about the recently completed Tompkins County Labor Market Study from Martha Armstrong of Tompkins County Area Development and Julia Mattick, Director of the County Workforce Investment Board.  Despite moderate growth in the seven-county region, the study’s findings include underemployment in the region, with a mismatch of skills and lack of opportunity at higher income levels, limited availability of basic-skill workers and the 35-44-year-old age group declining faster than the national average.

§   Authorized the granting of Tompkins County Economic Development Revolving Loan Funds to Tompkins County Area Development, Inc., to assume oversight of the fund from the County Planning Department.  The County will provide grants to TCAD not to exceed $500,000 over the next two years for economic development loans for businesses.  The action replaces a measure passed last year which had the same intent, but would have accomplished the change in a different way. The vote was 13-1. with Legislator Kathy Luz Herrera opposed, maintaining that the County should maintain oversight.

§   Authorized the County to accept an anticipated $7.6 million in Federal Aviation Administration funding for runway safety area improvements, obstruction clearance and parallel taxiway relocation.