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

Legislature Supports Three-Party Agreement to Address Affordable Housing
After more than an hour of discussion, the Legislature authorized County to enter into an agreement with the City of Ithaca and Cornell University to develop, administer and jointly fund a long-discussed Community Housing Affordability Program and the Housing Trust Program to address the local need for affordable housing. The measure was approved by a vote of 13-2, with Legislators Mike Hattery and Greg Stevenson voting no.

The Community Housing Affordability program will be a competitive program to encourage the building of affordable housing units by assisting with pre-development costs associated with residential and mixed-use real estate development primarily benefiting low- and moderate-income households. The Community Housing Trust Fund is a program that places land in trust to help ensure that newly constructed or renovated homes made available to low to moderate-income buyers remain affordable in the future.

The Legislature’s action accepts a memorandum or understanding among the parties, committing the County to provide $100,000 for initial capitalization the first year, to be matched by $100,000 from the City of Ithaca and $200,000 from Cornell, with automatic renewal under the same arrangement at a rate of $100,000 per year for up six years in total. The County’s contribution comes solely from Small Cities Community Development Block Grant funds for its first-time homebuyer program, awarded and repaid by recipients since 1993. The County will appoint three representatives to a Program Oversight Committee for the programs, with the Planning Department providing administrative support.

Legislator Hattery voiced serious concern about impact of creating the housing trust, which he said could give control of value of properties in his district to a future non-profit entity without accountability. Legislator Dooley Kiefer asked that the Legislature recommend that scoring criteria for the Housing Affordability Program be modified to give greater weight to smart growth and green building technologies, an approach Legislator Stevenson characterized as unwise. With affordable housing long considered one of the County’s most pressing challenges, Legislator Martha Robertson called the proposal “a tremendous opportunity for our residents and the people who want to live in Tompkins County, but can’t afford it.” Legislature Chair Mike Koplinka-Loehr praised the three partners for innovation to address a long-standing need.
Contact: Pamela Mackesey, Chair, Planning, Development and Environmental Quality Committee, 273-6203; Legislator Mike Hattery, 844-4361; Legislator Martha Robertson, 272-0584; Planning and Public Works Commissioner Ed Marx, 274-5560.

Preliminary Report Assesses Potential County Impact of Governor’s Proposed Budget
County Administrator Joe Mareane talked to Legislators about preliminary report based on information submitted by County departments and agencies regarding how the County might be affected this year, should Governor David Paterson’s proposed executive budget be approved intact. The report suggests a potential total county impact of $2.7 million from reductions proposed in the Governor’s budget—about $1.7 million affecting County departments, another $1 million impacting local agencies.

Administrator Mareane stressed that the information does not include impacts that can’t presently be quantified, such as the proposed shift of funding for Social Services administration and Youth Services from formula-based reimbursement to restrictive block grants. The Administrator noted it is unlikely for the proposal to come through legislative review without significant changes—the Governor has already recommended full funding of the so-called CHIPS highway funding, reversing his own proposal that would have cut $500,000 in aid to Tompkins County.

The Administrator also reported that initial reports indicate that increase of the federal government’s share of Medicaid costs could produce a one-time benefit to the County of $3.25 to $4 million over the next two years, a bit less than had been anticipated.
Contact: County Administrator Joe Mareane, 274-5551.

Legislature Delays Taking a Position on “Fair Share” Tax Reform
After considerable debate, the Legislature failed to yet take a position on proposed “Fair Share” tax reform legislation being considered by the State Legislaure, legislation that would increase income taxes for the top 3.5% of the state’s taxpayers. Following objections from legislators, including Frank Proto, that the Budget Committee vote that led to the recommendation violated rules of the Legislature regarding the appointment of temporary committee members that Proto claimed had “orchestrated” the recommendation vote—and much debate—budget chair Jim Dennis withdrew the measure, to return to committee. Later in the meeting, an attempt was made to resurrect the proposal as a member-filed resolution, which failed by a vote of 4-11.
Contact: Jim Dennis, Chair, Budget, Capital and Finance Committee, 387-4058; Legislator Frank Proto, 277-4875.

No Action Yet on Proposed Changes in Process for Staff Vacancies and Reclassifications
Proposed revision to the County process to fill staff vacancies or change position classifications was withdrawn for more consideration in committee, after nearly a half-hour of debate. The proposed new policy would make all personnel changes subject to review by the Commissioner of Personnel and the County Administrator, with final approval by the County Administrator to allow for consideration of impact on the County’s overall budget . Legislator Dooley Kiefer has proposed changes that would, in part, keep reclassifications under the authority of the County Personnel Commissioner.
Nathan Shinagawa, Chair, Government Performance and Workforce Relations Committee, 280-7557.

Kelsey Melvin Recognized as Distinguished Youth
Trumansburg High School student Kelsey Melvin was tapped for recognition as a Tompkins County Distinguished Youth for her generosity in celebrating her 16th birthday. In lieu of presents, she requested that her friends bring non-perishable food to be given to the Trumansburg Food Pantry, resulting in 24 boxes of food for the pantry. Carol Mann of Trumansburg, who nominated Kelsey, calls her “a fine example of a caring young adult, to give from the heart to benefit people in need.” The 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.

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