Highlights of the October 21, 2008 meeting
of the
Tompkins County Legislature

Legislature Adopts 2009 Budget Amendments
The Legislature, by a vote of 11-4, adopted amendments to the 2009 Tompkins County tentative budget, as recommended by its Expanded Budget Committee.  Legislators Dooley Kiefer, Mike Sigler, Will Burbank and Mike Hattery voted no.  The amended budget would increase the tax levy by 2.99 percent, meeting the Legislature’s 3 percent tax levy increase goal, and decreasing the countywide average tax rate by 13.5 percent, to $5.93 per thousand.  The proposal applies $80,000 in contingency funding to keep the levy increase below 3 percent, and puts the County’s surplus fund balance at $844,856, nearly $200,000 less than the million-dollar level the County Administrator has recommended.  Legislators Hattery and Kiefer both said they oppose the budget because they feel the fund balance level is too low.  Legislator Frank Proto was one who cautioned that, although he voted in favor of the amendments, he wants to hear how citizens feel about the proposal before deciding how he’ll vote at the time of final adoption.   Reflecting on the budget process, budget chair Nathan Shinagawa said he believes the Legislature’s focus on its goal supported sound decisions this year.

The amended package, now known as the Legislative Tentative Budget, replaces Administrator Whicher’s tentative budget as the basis of budget deliberations.  The Legislature will hold a public budget hearing on Monday, November 10, beginning at 7 p.m. at Legislature Chambers.  The final budget adoption vote is currently scheduled to take place Tuesday, November 18.  The amended budget will be available for review online at the County website at www.tompkins-co.org (click on “County Budget”) with paper copies available at the County Legislature office at the County Courthouse and at County Administration, 125 E. Court Street, Ithaca.
Contact:  Nathan Shinagawa, Chair, Budget and Capital Committee, 280-7557.

Recognition and Thanks for Retiring Administrator Steve Whicher
On the occasion of his final Legislature meeting, retiring County Administrator Steve Whicher was recognized for his many contributions to the County over 18 years with Tompkins County and seven as administrator.  In a resolution of appreciation approved by unanimous vote, the Legislature recognized “the many significant contributions Steve has made to preserve and improve the quality of life for the citizens of our County” and extends its sincere appreciation and best wishes.  The resolution states that Mr. Whicher is “known for his overall leadership in County government and its departments through his efficiency, effectiveness and high standards of public service and the development of strong relationships with human service agencies throughout the County;” and, in part, praises his mighty and successful labor on the County’s budgets for the past seven years.

In their comments, Legislators praised Steve Whicher’s leadership, honesty, analytical skills, problem solving ability, accessibility to legislators, ability to build bridges with the community and to educate and empower others.  Chair Mike Koplinka-Loehr called the outgoing administrator a “consummate public servant” who along with his many professional strengths is always a “compassionate, caring human being.”

Administrator Whicher thanked Legislators for the privilege of serving them and the County, calling them “outstanding,” and in introducing his successor, also praised incoming Administrator Joe Mareane, as “one of the most outstanding people” he has known,  an administrator who will serve the County well.  Mr. Mareane also commended Steve Whicher as “an incredibly capable county administrator who has put this house in very good order.” 
Contact:  Michael Koplinka-Loehr, Chair of the Legislature 274-5434 or 257-2329; County Administrator Steve Whicher, 274-5551.

Among other actions, the Legislature

  • Confirmed, by unanimous vote, Administrator Steve Whicher’s reappointment of Social Services Commissioner Patricia Carey for a second five-year term;
  • Approved, by a 10-5 vote (Legislators Mike Hattery, Frank Proto, Tyke Randall, Mike Sigler and Greg Stevenson dissenting) allocation of $16,500 in contingency funding to expand the number of clients served by the jail re-entry initiative operated by Opportunities, Alternatives and Resources (OAR).  Some commented that the County should investigate an administrative arrangement whereby this program could be operated through a contract with a County department.
  • Formally adopted, by unanimous vote, findings supporting the proposed taking by eminent domain of the public safety communications system tower site located between Tucker and Podunk Roads in the Town of Enfield.  The findings follow a public hearing conducted by the Legislature in August, finding that by ensuring security and access to the site which is essential to the functioning of the emergency communications system, the proposed taking of the site will serve an important public purpose.
  • By a vote of 11-4 (Legislators Will Burbank, Frank Proto, Greg Stevenson and Mike Sigler voting no), approved the 2009 Solid Waste Annual Fee, which keeps the charge at $54 per billing unit.  Legislator Proto criticized the charges for tax-exempt parcels owned by colleges as too low; Legislator Burbank called the fee structure “inherently regressive.”