Highlights of the August 19, 2008 meeting
of the
Tompkins County Legislature
Joe Mareane Appointed County Administrator
The Tompkins County Legislature tonight made it official, by unanimous vote appointing Joe Mareane as the County’s next County Administrator.  Mareane, currently Chief Fiscal Officer for Onondaga County, is appointed effective October 21 (to permit overlap with outgoing Administrator Steve Whicher) and will become County Administrator as of October 28.  The Legislature’s action confirms the selection of Mr. Mareane, following a more than year-long search to fill the leadership position.  (Legislators Martha Robertson, Pam Mackesey, Mike Hattery and Tyke Randall were excused from the meeting and did not participate in the vote.)

The Legislature also officially thanked retiring County Administrator Whicher, who will leave his position as of October 27, expressing its “gratitude for the many years of service which he has committed to the public good of all residents in Tompkins County.”

Legislators expressed appreciation to Mr. Mareane for accepting the County’s offer; Administrator Whicher said he, administration staff and department heads are all very pleased with the appointment and that all are working very hard to ensure a smooth transition.
Contact:  Michael Koplinka-Loehr, Chair of the Legislature 274-5434 or 257-2329; County Administrator Steve Whicher, 274-5551.

Legislature Holds Hearing on Proposed Acquisition of Enfield Communications Site
The Legislature conducted a more than half-hour-long public hearing to inform the public and to review the public use to be served by proposed acquisition of property for the County’s emergency communications tower site in the Town of Enfield.  Both attorney Richard Stumbar, representing the County, and Director of Emergency Response Lee Shurtleff stated that the County has experienced ongoing problems with gaining access to the public safety communications site, located between Tucker and Podunk Roads, currently under long term lease.  The County proposes to acquire by eminent domain an approximately 200-by-200-foot parcel, plus an adjacent strip of land bordering an access road.  Because of the interrelated nature of the ten-tower communications system, Director Shurtleff said inability to have round-the-clock access to the Enfield site could harm the overall system and compromise public safety, and that any change in site would require re-engineering of the entire system  at significant cost.

Representing property owner J. William Kenney, attorney Douglas Foss characterized the matter as one of misunderstandings and cited an alleged discrepancy in the property survey, with substantial portions of the system built beyond the parcel that was leased.  He maintained his client has never blocked access to the site and wishes to cooperate, and argued that the County cannot properly use eminent domain for a proper public purpose, to acquire something for which it has already negotiated.

County Attorney Jonathan Wood said he would ask attorney Stumbar to prepare findings on the matter to present to the Legislature.  Any Legislature action must take place within 90 days of tonight’s hearing.
Contact:  Lee Shurtleff, Director of Emergency Response, 257-3888.

Cortland-McLean Road Bridge Project Moves Forward
The Legislature, without dissent, awarded Economy Paving Company, Inc. of Cortland the contract for replacement of the School Street bridge on County Road 105, Cortland-McLean Road, for its bid of nearly $1.1 million, opened on July 28.  Federal funds are expected to cover 80 percent of the capital project cost.  Construction is scheduled for completion by the end of the year.  This is the third and final phase of the Cortland-McLean Road project, begun eleven years ago.
Contact:  Planning and Public Works Commissioner Ed Marx, 274-5560.

Among other actions,

§ The Legislature scheduled a public hearing on a proposed new local law that would enhance personal privacy for documents recorded in the County Clerk’s Office and would also authorize an increase in fees collected by the County Clerk for the recording, entering, indexing and endorsing a certificate on any recorded instrument.  The hearing will take place September 2, 2008 at 5:30 p.m. at Legislature Chambers of the County Courthouse, 320 N. Tioga Street, Ithaca.  Clerk’s fees for recording documents have not increased in 25 years.

§ Legislators heard a presentation from HOLT architects regarding the feasibility study examining possible co-location of the County Office for the Aging and Lifelong into a new or expanded Lifelong building on Lifelong’s existing property on Ithaca’s West Court Street.  Replacing the structures on site with a new building is estimated at a cost of approximately $5.8 million; renovating part of the existing facility with a new addition at about $4.5 million.  If the project goes forward, construction would begin in late 2009.  It is expected that the Legislature next month will be asked to approve a resolution of intent regarding the project.

§ County Administrator Steve Whicher indicated that he will be presenting a tentative 2009 budget on September 2nd that meets the Legislature’s 3 percent tax levy increase goal, but he cautioned that this will be a challenging year.  The administrator said that, based on recent conversations with staff from the Statewide Wireless Network (SWN), he cannot yet recognize an anticipated $400,000 from SWN as part of his proposed 2009 budget.  To maintain the County’s ability to accommodate any future state budget cuts, Mr. Whicher said he is trying to protect the fund balance as much as possible and advised that the County must keep communicating to the state that a shift in cost from the State to counties is not a reduction in expenditures.

§ The Legislature accepted a $68,000 New York State Interoperable Communications Grant to support an equipment purchase for the County’s new public safety communications system.  The new bridging device will enhance the County’s radio system’s ability to communicate with systems for other counties.