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

Legislative Pay Not Yet Decided
There will be more discussion and deliberation before the Tompkins County Legislature establishes Legislator salaries for the next legislative term.  Legislators wrestled with the salary issue during an hour of thoughtful debate, but despite considering five alternate proposals in a series of votes, failed to achieve the eight votes required to resolve the issue.  That means the matter will return to committee before the issue comes to the Legislature again.  All 15 legislature seats are up for election this year for four-year terms beginning January 1, 2010.

Last week, the Legislature’s Government Performance and Workforce Relations Committee recommended that Legislator salaries remain at the current level of $18,700 for the entire term—through 2013.  The Legislature, however, first considered a modification of that proposal, advanced by Legislator Kathy Luz Herrera, that would increase salaries by $750 each year, presented as consistent with the Legislature’s support of a livable wage, reasonable compensation, and a level that would make Legislature service a realistic option for a wide range of people.  While a number of legislators expressed understanding about the principles involved, many voiced concern that such an increase should not be approved in these extraordinary economic times.  The proposal failed by a vote of 3-10, with Legislators Herrera, Leslyn McBean-Clairborne and Chair Mike Koplinka-Loehr voting in favor.

Legislator Dooley Kiefer advanced a compromise proposal to hold legislator pay at the current level for the first two years of the term, then raise it by $500 each year for years three and four, when it is her hope that the economic situation will be better.  Before that measure was considered, however, Legislators took up another proposed amendment, advanced by McBean-Clairborne, which would have raised salaries by an annual $300 each year, which failed 3-10 vote (again Herrera, McBean-Clairborne and Koplinka-Loehr in favor); then another proposal, from Legislator Carol Chock, to hold salaries at the current level in 2010, then increase them by $300 in 2011, and $500 in 2012 and 2013.  That measure also failed by a 3-10 vote—this time, Legislators Chock, McBean-Clairborne and Chair Koplinka-Loehr voting in favor.  Legislator Kiefer’s initial proposal also failed, by a vote of 5-8, with Kiefer, Koplinka-Loehr, Chock, Martha Robertson, and Pam Mackesey voting in favor.  Supporters pointed out that the Legislature could always rescind the later pay increases if warranted, but could not increase salaries during the term.

The committee recommendation for no salary increase during the legislative term, which had been proposed in committee by Legislator Jim Dennis, received a 7-6 vote (Legislators Chock, Herrera, Kiefer, Mackesey, McBean-Clairborne and Koplinka-Loehr voting no), which fell short of the eight votes needed for passage.  Legislators Tyke Randall and Nathan Shinagawa were excused from tonight’s meeting—Shinagawa indicating in a prepared statement presented to the Legislature that he supports the “no increase over four years” resolution.
Contact: Dooley Kiefer , Vice Chair, Government Performance and Workforce Relations Committee, 257-7453; Legislator Kathy Luz Herrera, 273-8169; Legislator Jim Dennis, 387-4058.

Legislature Endorses “Fair Share” Tax Reform
The Legislature, by a party-line vote of 9-3, put the County on record in support of proposed “Fair Share” tax reform legislation under consideration by the State Legislature.  (Republicans Mike Sigler, Mike Hattery and Frank Proto voted no; Nathan Shinagawa, Tyke Randall and Dooley Kiefer were excused.) The legislation would increase income taxes for the top 3.5% of the state’s taxpayers, a change that supporters maintain would generate $6 billion to nearly halve State’s projected budget shortfall, a modest increase that would ease the burden on low and moderate-income citizens and make the state’s tax code fairer and more progressive.  Legislator Sigler countered that financial projections are based on outdated data, that the legislation is misdirected, and that it would drive out of the state those who could most fiscally support it.  The measure was first considered two weeks ago, but returned to committee after some on the Legislature questioned the committee process that led to the initial recommendation.
Contact:  Jim Dennis, Chair, Budget, Capital and Finance Committee, 387-4058; Legislator Michael Sigler, 339-7978.

Legislature Hears TC3 Annual Report
Tompkins Cortland Community College President Dr. Carl Haynes delivered his annual “State of the College” message to the Legislature, noting that TC3 is experiencing quite different challenges related to the economy from other local academic institutions.  While College enrollment is expected to experience as much as a 25% increase in enrollment over a three-year span, that is coupled with the challenge of how to accommodate that increased number of students with limited state funding.  The Governor’s budget proposes a 10% (or $850,000) reduction in base aid in the coming year.  President Haynes said the college remains strong and vibrant as it celebrates its 40th year. “At TC3, we’re clearly not in retreat in these challenging times,” Dr. Haynes said.  “Our talented and committed faculty and staff will use limited resources (both public and private dollars) as effectively and efficiently as possible to assure success for our students and continued engagement with our community to assure its growth and vitality.”
Contact:  Dr. Carl Haynes, President, Tompkins Cortland Community College, 844-8211.

Legislators Approve Revised Process on Staff Vacancies and Reclassifications
The Legislature, without dissent, approved a policy revision on how the County handles the filling of staff vacancies and reclassifications.  The new policy makes any and all personnel changes subject to review and approval by the Commissioner of Personnel for the purpose of compliance with personnel and civil service policy and the County Administrator for the purpose of budgetary and organizational management. The change allows for position changes to be considered in light of impact on the County’s overall budget.  The policy was revised from a version considered by the Legislature two weeks ago, in part adding a process by which department heads may appeal vacancies which have existed for at least two months.
Contact Dooley Kiefer , Vice Chair, Government Performance and Workforce Relations Committee, 257-7453;

Sisters Recognized for Life-Saving Actions
Sisters Megan Cornelius, age 14, and Emily Morse, age 10, of Dryden, were honored as Tompkins County Distinguished Youth for life-saving efforts that prevented tragic results from a Christmas Eve morning house fire at the Susan Cornelius residence.  Past Dryden Fire Chief Ron Flynn, who submitted the nomination, praised their mature and quick-thinking actions—reporting the fire, getting out of the house and awakening the occupant of a basement apartment, all in a very short time.  Chief Flynn stated, “Megan’s and Emily’s efforts saved lives!!!  If it were not for their very mature and calm actions, this fire could have produced tragic results, with a fatality involved.”  The Distinguished Youth Award is cosponsored by A&B Awards and Engraving, Bangs Ambulance Service, Purity Ice Cream and Cayuga Radio Group.  Legislator Mike Hattery, who presented the award, also took the opportunity to thank the members of the Dryden Fire Department, and all firefighters, for their ongoing sacrifice and dedicated service to the community.
Contact:  Legislature Office, 274-5434.

Among other actions, the Legislature

Opposed the proposed youth services block grant and retroactive elimination of Community Optional Preventive Services (COPS) program funding under Governor Paterson’s executive budget.  The resolution maintains that combining detention and prevention services for youth under a block grant would be detrimental for local youth and would pit comprehensive community-based youth development and prevention programs against more costly detention programs; and that eliminating COPS aid would remove vital support for intensive prevention services.

Authorized the County to apply for a $1.4 million Federal Transit Administration grant, under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, on behalf of Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit (TCAT and Gadabout.  The funding would support purchase of two hybrid transit buses for TCAT, two paratransit buses for Gadabout and preventive maintenance for both agencies.  The Legislature also authorized the County to apply on behalf of TCAT for $325,000 in State Dedicated Transit Funding, to fully fund purchase of a low-floor hybrid electric-diesel replacement bus and “smartcard” fare collection equipment.

Authorized execution of a grant agreement with the State Department of Transportation to implement the Job Access Rural Commute (JARC) program, administered by the Department of Social Services.  $150,000 in state JARC funds and $50,000 from the New Freedom program will support this initiative to expand transportation options for low-income residents and individuals with disabilities who reside in rural areas of the county.

Awarded a $21,000 tourism capital grant, funded by Room Occupancy Tax dollars, to the Kitchen Theatre, as recommended by the Strategic Tourism Planning Board.  The Legislature also authorized continuation of the County’s contract with Tompkins County Area Development to administer the Tourism Capital Grants program.

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