Highlights of the November 18, 2008 meeting
of the
Tompkins County Legislature

Legislature Adopts 2009 Tompkins County Budget
The Tompkins County Legislature tonight adopted a 2009 Tompkins County Budget, concluding ten weeks of deliberations toward the 2009 spending plan.  The budget, nearly unchanged from the tentative budget endorsed earlier by the Legislature, increases the County tax levy by 2.99 percent, meeting  the Legislature’s 3 percent  levy goal, with the countywide average tax rate decreasing by 13.5 percent, to $5.93 per thousand.  

The budget passed by a vote of 11-4, with Legislators Dooley Kiefer, Mike Sigler, Will Burbank and Mike Hattery voting no.  Opponents expressed concern that the surplus fund balance, reduced by about $150,000 from the million-dollar level that retired County Administrator Steve Whicher had recommended, does not provide a sufficient cushion for the County to prepare for stormy economic times ahead.  

The only change to the budget, approved by a 12-3 margin, was to approve $2,000 in one-time funding for the County Historian for the county’s new Civil War Commemoration Commission, charged with developing and coordinating events commemorating the American Civil War.  That change affected the fund balance, but not the tax levy.

Legislators again failed, by a vote of 6-9, to approve an amendment that would have provided target funding for a half-time Purchasing Assistant in the Finance Department. With the cost of salary and fringe offset by returned department rollover, the net expense of just under $11,000 would have increased the tax levy by .03 percent.  Sponsor Dooley Kiefer and Legislators Burbank, Martha Robertson, Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, Jim Dennis and Pam Mackesey voted in favor of the amendment.

Legislators praised the collaborative effort that produced the budget and expressed appreciation to staff, as well as to retired administrator Whicher, for all their time and effort.  Both Legislators Frank Proto and Tyke Randall, who had not supported budgets in previous years, supported this one.  Proto observed, “We really didn’t get everything we wanted, but everybody put a lot of time into it…a real collaborative effort among the staff and legislators.”  Legislator Kathy Luz-Herrera, who also supported the budget, admitted that it’s not perfect, especially in these economic times when citizens are losing their jobs.  “This isn’t anything really to celebrate,” she said, “but we’re doing the best we can.”  Legislator Carol Chock said she sees the County and its services as a needed buffer for citizens in tough economic times.

Comparison of 2008 and 2009 adopted Tompkins County budgets:

Local Share  (spending on local programs; revenue raised from the local community, primarily through property and sales tax):
2008:  $72,485,255
2009:  $74,099,865

Property Tax Levy  (total amount to be collected from owners of taxable property):
2008:  $35 768,597
2009:  $36,837,645 (Percent change: +2.99)

Property Tax Rate (countywide average amount per $1,000 of assessed property value):
2008:  $6.86
2009:  $5.93 (Percent change:  -13.5)

Contact:  Michael Koplinka-Loehr, Chair of the Legislature 274-5434 or 257-2329; Nathan Shinagawa, Chair, Budget and Capital Committee, 280-7557; County Administrator Joe Mareane, 274-5551.

Legislature Supports Two TC3 Capital Projects
The Legislature provided official endorsement for two proposed Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3) projects, those commitments needed to lock in anticipated 50 percent State funding support.

There was considerable discussion before the Legislature pledged its commitment, by a vote of 14-1 (Chair Mike Koplinka-Loehr dissenting) to support eventual replacement of the campus’s obsolete electrical panel system to address health and safety concerns.  Legislators expressied concern about the timing of the request, potential impact on the budget and the County’s 20-year capital plan.  College president Carl Haynes told legislators the action allows the College to secure the state funding, then work with the County Administrator to determine what year is the best to proceed.  The $1.6 million electrical project carries anticipated local debt service of $45,000 per year for a total cost of about half-a-million dollars.  The Legislature must approve a future bonding resolution before the project can proceed.

By unanimous vote, the Legislature supported the proposed renovation of the Dryden campus to create nine additional classrooms to accommodate rapidly increasing enrollment. Project cost is estimated not to exceed $2 million, at what College officials assure will involve no additional cost to the taxpayer.  The County’s share of the cost will be supported through capital chargeback funds, and County Finance Director David Squires told legislators the College has showed it could absorb the entire project cost if state funding did not come through, with no effect on the county budget in 2009 or beyond.   
Contact:  Nathan Shinagawa, Chair, Budget and Capital Committee, 280-7557;  Michael Koplinka-Loehr, Chair of the Legislature 274-5434 or 257-2329; TC3President Carl Haynes, 844-8211.
Among other actions, the Legislature

  • Authorized, by a vote of 10-5, the issuance of $6.5 million in serial bonds to support partial cost of renovating and reconstructing the new county Health Department headquarters at 55 Brown Road in Lansing.  Legislators McBean-Clairborne, Proto, Randall, Sigler and Greg Stevenson voted no.
  • Scheduled a public hearing on amending the County’s Comprehensive Plan to incorporate an energy and greenhouse gas emissions element.  The hearing will be held on December 2, 2008 at 5:30 p.m. in Legislative Chambers in the County Courthouse, 320 N. Tioga Street, Ithaca.  The vote was 12-3, with Legislators Proto, Hattery and Sigler voting no.
  • Recognized 15-year-old Tom Arleo, of Lansing, as November’s Distinguished Youth.  Arleo was nominated by Commissioners Elizabeth Cree and Steve DeWitt, who praised him especially for his outstanding and painstaking work in volunteering with the Board of Elections this fall.   The Distinguished Youth Award is cosponsored by A&B Awards and Engraving, Bangs Ambulance Service, Purity Ice Cream and Cayuga Radio Group.