Highlights of the February 3, 2009 meeting
of the
Tompkins County Legislature

Legislature Leadership Again Debated. No Action Taken
Saying the issue of the 2009 leadership of the Tompkins County Legislature must be resolved without delay, Legislator Dooley Kiefer tonight renewed her motion to reconsider the Legislature’s vote which two weeks ago reelected Michael Koplinka-Loehr Chair of the Legislature for 2009. Kiefer’s move came even though Legislators Leslyn McBean-Clairborne and Kathy Luz Herrera were excused from the meeting, and legislators have said that it’s important for the full complement of members to participate in the leadership decision.

The Legislator later withdrew her motion, after County Attorney Jonathan Wood rendered his opinion, supported by ruling of the Chair, that the vote for Chair cannot be reconsidered without suspending the rules of the Legislature. While not agreeing with the opinion, Kiefer did not appeal the Chair’s ruling. Legislators Martha Robertson (who had been elected Vice Chair in a disputed vote at the January 6 organizational meeting) and Nathan Shinagawa said the matter must be taken up when all 15 legislators are available.

Chair Koplinka-Loehr said he will call a special meeting to revisit the position of Chair and Vice Chair, with action to be taken. Koplinka-Loehr stated, “If my error on January 6th has shaken the confidence of our citizens, I am committed to revisiting the decision for Chair. My goal is to restore confidence of the leaders of this county in a transparent manner.” Republican Mike Hattery expressed concern about revisiting the earlier vote, saying the Legislature’s rules are clear. “It is very clear to me that we have an elected Chair that cannot be challenged at this point,” he stated. “To move to change the rules further jeopardizes our credibility.” Legislator Frank Proto asked that the Chair advise the Legislature on how to proceed concerning 2009 committee assignments and the conduct of day-to-day business. Koplinka-Loehr said he intends to present 2009 committee assignments at the February 3 meeting, unless decisions before then dictate a revised timetable.

*  Subsequent to the publication of this summary, Legislator Kiefer requested a clarification that the timing of her requested action related solely to the procedural requirement that a reconsideration of a vote of the Legislature occur no later than the meeting following the original action.
Contact: Legislator Dooley Kiefer, 257-7453; Michael Koplinka-Loehr, Chair of the Legislature 274-5434 or 257-2329; Legislator Michael Hattery, 844-4361

Bids Awarded for Health Department Building Project
Renovation of a new headquarters for the Tompkins County Health Department moved another step forward, as the Legislature awarded $4.2 million dollars in construction contracts to renovate the facilities at 55 Brown Road. By a vote of 12-1, the Legislature awarded the general contract to William H. Lane, Inc. of Binghamton and subcontracts to Piccirilli-Slavic & Vincent Inc. of Binghamton (for mechanical work); Concord Electrical Corp. of Rochester (electrical); and Kimble, Inc., of Elmira (plumbing). (Legislator Frank Proto voted no; Legislators Leslyn McBean-Clairborne and Kathy Luz Herrera were excused.) According to Planning and Public Works Commissioner Ed Marx, the bids came in within budget. With deconstruction of the building substantially complete, renovation is scheduled to begin by early March, with completion scheduled by October.

With some legislators expressing concern that none of the firms are local, legislators were told that three of them are union contractors, with two indicating that they will use local labor. Legislator Frank Proto suggested projected total project cost now stands close to the $11 million that had been projected to build a new structure on the Biggs site. Mr. Marx countered that the assumption is not correct. The anticipated total of $8.2 million includes expected revenue from sale of the Biggs building.
Contact: Planning and Public Works Commissioner Ed Marx; Legislator Dooley Kiefer, Facilities and Infrastructure Committee, 257-7453; Legislator Frank Proto, 277-4875.

Contingency Funds Awarded for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program
The Legislature, by a vote of 12-1 (Chair Mike Koplinka-Loehr voted no; Legislators Leslyn McBean-Clairborne and Kathy Luz Herrera were excused) allocated $10,000 from the contingent fund to support the Alternatives Venture Fund’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program. Now entering its seventh year, the program, undertaken by the non-profit corporation affiliated with Alternatives Federal Credit Union, provides free income tax preparation for low-income households. Funds awarded help fill the gap created by the loss of grant funds from two sources this year. Koplinka-Loehr said that the county should not be the funder of last resort. The County provided $10,000 for the program in 2008, but the program did not file a budget request for 2009.
Contact: Frank Proto, Chair, Health and Human Services Committee, 277-4875; Michael Koplinka-Loehr, 274-5434 or 257-2329.

Six Boynton Students Recognized for Farming Education
Eighth graders Dylan and Dusting Hollenbeck, Justin McNeal, Matt Laue, Nick Hubbell and Adam Bradford are this month’s Tompkins County Distinguished Youth, recognized for their efforts to educate their peers about their lives in farming during the first quarter of 2008. The boys planned and carried out a number of activities and displayed to teach their fellow students about their involvement and how farming is a vital part of our community and includes people from all walks of life. Saying that their efforts, highlight the importance of diversity, Legislator Frank Proto said, “This is an opportunity to thank these folks for their outreach to the community. The Tompkins County Distinguished Youth Award is cosponsored by A&B Awards and Engraving, Bangs Ambulance Service, Purity Ice Cream and Cayuga Radio Group.
Contact: Legislature Office, 274-5434.

Among other business, Legislators

  • Reflected on the historical significance of the day, with the nation’s election of President Barack Obama. Democrat Will Burbank was one who called it “an extraordinary day in our country and our world” and expressed hope that the event “has the potential to bring us all together.” Colleague Carol Chock pointed out that national issues such as this do connect to local issues, and Republican Frank Proto observed that one couldn’t help but be moved by what the new President said and to appreciate the sincerity of his comments.
  • Urged the State Legislature to make permanent and expand the authority of Civic Facility Legislation, legislation permitting local Industrial Development Agencies (IDAs) to issue tax-exempt bonds for local non-profit agency construction projects. The legislation expired a year ago.
  • Accepted a $20,000 grant from the Community Health Foundation of Western and Central New York to the Office of the Aging, to support community planning to develop to a local training and retention program for home and health care aides; and a $4,000 grant from the United Way of Tompkins County’s Youth in Philanthropy Program to help support publication of the Youth Service Department’s Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice Guide to Teen Services and Activities.
  • Increased the County Clerk’s allowance for annual expenses for administering mortgage tax, pursuant to provisions of New York State tax law. The allowance was increased by about $30,000 to $185,616 per year. The allowance for treasurer’s annual expense for administering the mortgage tax was set as $15,000.
  • Held a public hearing concerning the 2009 New York State Community Renewal Community Development Block Grant Program.

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