Highlights of the February 17, 2009 meeting
of the
Tompkins County Legislature

Legislators Briefed on Proposed Health Benefits Consortium
Nearly two years since in-depth planning began, the Legislature received a status report on the intermunicipal effort to establish New York State’s first county health benefits consortium, an approach that will enable Tompkins County municipalities to pool their resources to provide health insurance for their employees. Development of the consortium project, advanced by the municipalities working together through the Tompkins County Council of Governments (TCCOG), is supported by a New York State Shared Municipal Services grant, awarded in 2007.

Consultant Steve Locey, of the firm of Locey and Cahill, who is working with the municipalities to develop the consortium program, told Legislators the arrangement can be expected to realize overall cost savings, in part from lower administrative fees and elimination of insurance company profits; protection from the spreading of risk through a larger pool of insured members; greater stability and predictability of rate increases; and increased control, through the Consortium’s Board of Directors over the rate of increase and timing of budget decisions. Locey said the goal is to provide health insurance in a more effective manner, lowering cost for taxpayers throughout the county. Benefits would be delivered through a self-insurance model, with the Consortium’s insurance plans offering at equal or better benefits than are now offered through individual municipal plans.

Municipalities are currently being asked to become familiar with the consortium concept and the proposed operating agreement. Additional details, including benefits and premium costs, will be provided as the process moves forward. Later this spring, municipalities will be asked to join the Consortium through approval of the agreement, with the new program scheduled to begin operation as of the beginning of next year.

Legislator Nathan Shinagawa, who serves on TCCOG’s Health Benefits Steering Committee, praised Locey and his firm for their able assistance and predicted the effort will produce “amazing” results, which will “insulate (municipal governments) from the whims of the insurance industry.”
Contact: County Administrator Joe Mareane, 274-5551; Legislator Nathan Shinagawa, 280-7557.

Human Needs, Agency Demands Increased in Tough Economic Times
The Director of the county’s Human Services Coalition told Legislators that county human services agencies are experiencing greater demand for services in light of the current economic downturn, as many also face the prospect of proposed state budget cuts. Reporting on a summary recently prepared from discussion before the Coalition’s Homeless and Housing Task Force, Kathy Schlather said many agencies are receiving more requests for assistance, including from many residents who have not come to them before.

As examples, the American Red Cross is seeing an increase in the homeless population, with more people spending shorter stays in the homeless shelter; more evictions being reported to Neighborhood Legal Services; security deposit assistance provided by Catholic Charities way ahead of last year; and the Food Bank of the Southern Tier, Loaves and Fishes, and the Salvation Army all seeing greater food demands. Schlather observed that staff and consumers are confused, stressed and having a hard time, with working people unable to make ends meet and agencies experiencing shrinking resources to meet those needs. Representatives of several local agencies also addressed legislators, reporting on the impact on their services. Schlather said the situation is compounded by proposed state budget cuts in preventive services administered through the Department of Social Services and initiatives such as local 2-1-1 service, operated by the Coalition, which link people in need to potential resources. Predicting challenging decisions in the months ahead, legislators asked the Coalition to keep them informed of ongoing developments.
Contact: Frank Proto, Chair, Health and Human Services Committee, 277-4875; Kathy Schlather, Executive Director, Human Services Coalition, 273-8686.

County, Council of Governments Finalizing Federal Stimulus Requests
County Administrator Joe Mareane presented the Legislature a working draft of nearly 180 proposed federal stimulus projects which the County has compiled and is ready to submit to the Governor’s Office on behalf of the Tompkins County Council of Governments. The Administrator told Legislators the comprehensive package articulates in a very succinct professional way common local needs and productive economic stimulus investments that can be realized through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, just enacted by the federal government.

The Legislature gave an informal go-ahead to the Administrator to submit the package as soon as Wednesday, while the County’s portion of the submission is reviewed by committees on a parallel track, to consider prioritization of the requests. Legislator Martha Robertson noted that a significant aspect of the package is that it was developed collaboratively by the county’s municipalities through the Tompkins County Council of Governments, an achievement that stresses the value of TCCOG in a meaningful way and the importance of intermunicipal cooperation. Mr. Mareane added that, beyond stimulus funding allocated through New York State, federal stimulus dollars will also be advanced to local programs through existing funding streams.
Contact: County Administrator Joe Mareane, 274-5551.

Highlights of Legislature meetings

Tompkins County Legislature home page