Highlights of the April 7, 2009 meeting
of the Tompkins County Legislature

Legislature Sets Legislator Salaries for Upcoming Term
County legislators have established legislator salaries for the next legislative term, which begins January 1, 2010.  From action by the County Legislature tonight, Legislator salaries will hold at their current level for the term’s first two years, then will rise by $500 for years three and four—but only if the county’s unemployment rate is 4% or less. 

What was termed a compromise resolution to establish salaries for the new term was introduced by Legislator Nathan Shinagawa, who had been excused from the last Legislature meeting, where several proposals were considered and a proposal to hold Legislator pay steady for the entire four-year term failed to gain the eight votes sufficient for approval. Tonight’s proposal was approved by a 9 to 6 vote, with Legislators Mike Hattery, Frank Proto, Tyke Randall, Mike Sigler, Kathy Luz Herrera and Greg Stevenson voting no.  Legislator Randall, who had also been excused from the March 17 meeting, called for the “no-growth” resolution advanced at that meeting to be reconsidered, which failed by a vote of 5-10 (Randall, Proto, Hattery, Sigler and Stevenson voting in favor.)  Legislator Proto cautioned that, with what he characterized as dramatic changes in the nation’s economy, the Legislature should not set up the next board with a raise.  Legislator Shinagawa, who in committee had supported keeping legislator salaries flat over the four-year term, said his proposal “acknowledges the struggle that we all face in this troubling economy” and that legislators “should share their struggle, rather than make ourselves exempt from it.” 
Contact: Nathan Shinagawa, Chair, Government Performance and Workforce Relations Committee, 280-7557; Legislator Dooley Kiefer, 257-7453; Legislator Duane Tyke Randall, 898-3995

Legislature Supports Employee Free Choice Act
After an hour-and-a-quarter of public and legislative discussion, the Legislature by a vote of 12-3 went on record in support of the Employee Free Choice Act, now under consideration by Congress.  The action urges Congress to approve the measure which would authorize a National Labor Relations Board certification of an employee union based on a majority of employees voluntarily signing authorizations designating the union to represent them.  (Republicans Mike Hattery, Frank Proto, and Mike Sigler voted no.)  Several Legislators voicing support spoke from personal experience, one of them Pam Mackesey, recalling her experiences as a former union organizer and of the difficulty in organizing union representation for workers who needed it. Legislator Sigler claimed the Legislature was improperly taking a stand on a national issue and was one who expressed concern about the expected removal of secret ballot provisions in union elections, which he maintained would take away workers rights in favor of union power.
Contact:  Nathan Shinagawa, Chair, Government Performance and Workforce Relations Committee, 280-7557; Pamela Mackesey, Chair, Planning , Development, and Environmental Quality Committee, 273-6203; Legislator Michael Sigler, 339-7978.

Legislature Authorizes Grant Application to Fund Three Sheriff’s Deputies
The Legislature, by a vote of 11 to 4, authorized the County and the Sheriff to apply for federal stimulus funds to support the cost of three sheriff’s deputies, under the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program.  (Legislators Dooley Kiefer, Mike Hattery, Kathy Luz Herrera and Tyke Randall voted no.)   $666,422 in federal assistance will be sought for salary and fringe cost for the three positions over three years, which would increase the number of deputies from 25 to 28. Under conditions of the program, the County would be required to keep the new deputies on the roster for the fourth year at full County expense.  A net local cost of nearly $400,000 over the four-year period would be offset by a projected reduction of more than 20% in overtime cost in the Law Enforcement Division, to reduce the projected local four-year cost to slightly over $50,000.  Sheriff Peter Meskill told Legislators the additional deputies would enable his office to decrease response time to service calls, handle complaint investigations in a more comprehensive fashion and increase positive interactions and partnerships in the community.  Some Legislators expressed concern over the financial burden on the County should overtime savings not meet expectation—Sheriff Meskill said he is committed to make the program work.  Legislator Mike Hattery was one who raised questions about whether the County should be willing to take on the additional personnel load in today’s fiscal climate. 
Contact:  Martha Robertson, Chair, Public Safety Committee, 272-0584; Sheriff Peter Meskill, 257-1345; County Administrator Joe Mareane, 274-5551; Legislator Michael Hattery, 844-4361.

Legislature Awards Contract for Biodiesel Fuel
The Legislature, without dissent, awarded Mirabito Energy Products, of Binghamton, for its bid to provide Biodiesel fuel for use by the County’s Highway Division and Airport, as well as other municipalities, public sector entities and educational members of the local Alternative Fuels Consortium.  The bid price of $2.05 per gallon for the B20 type of fuel is a price comparable to that of regular diesel fuel. The bid award makes biodiesel fuel available for public sector use for the first time in Tompkins County.

In a related action, the Legislature, by a vote of 13 to 2 (Legislators Dooley Kiefer and Frank Proto voted no), also authorized the County to enter into a memorandum of understanding with Clean Communities of Central New York, a government-industry partnership supporting local initiatives to reduce petroleum use in the transportation sector.  The “Clean Cities” program, established by the United States Department of Energy, provides resources and technical assistance for projects related to alternative fuels technology.

Delivering the County Sustainability Team’s annual report to the Legislature, chair Cheryl Nelson reported that procurement of biodiesel as an alternative fuel, through collaborative efforts with other entities as the Alternative Fuels Consortium was among the initiatives pursued by team over the past year.  Among other achievements, a County “Green Fleet” policy under development; a resource guide for environmentally preferred procurement; energy conservation and waste reduction programs in County buildings; and ongoing outreach to employees.  Nelson noted that the new Health Department building, now under construction, is the County’s first LEED construction project.
Contact:  Cheryl Nelson, Public Works Administrator and Chair of the County Sustainability Team, 274-0302; Planning and Public Works Commissioner Ed Marx, 274-5560; Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, Chair, Facilities and Infrastructure Committee, 277-5104.

State Asked to Permit Increase in Telephone Access Surcharge
The Legislature, by a vote of 13 to 2, asked the Governor and the State Legislature to pass enabling state legislation which would permit the County to increase the  E911 telephone land-line access surcharge from the current $0.35 to an amount not to exceed $1.00 per access line per month. An increase would help support cost and associated debt service for the county’s public safety communications system and would seek to decrease reliance on the county property tax levy.  County Administrator Joe Mareane noted the issue is one of local control—the size of any increase and when it would take effect would be up to the County Legislature.
Contact:  County Administrator Joe Mareane, 274-5551; Martha Robertson, Chair, Public Safety Committee, 272-0584.

Among other actions, the Legislature

§ Authorized the County on behalf of Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit (TCAT) to apply for up to $2,175,000 in federal stimulus funds administered by the state Department of Transportation to purchase six 40-foot “clean diesel” transit buses, replacing six buses in the TCAT fleet.

§ Approved amendment adding nearly $30,000 to the Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3) 1993-94 Master Plan.  The amendment enables the College to access nearly $200,000 in unspent state funds remaining from other completed capital projects to support current needed expansion and renovation of the main campus cafeteria and kitchen areas.  Local matching funds will come from the cafeteria reserve fund with the College’s food vendor financing the remainder of the estimated $1.1 million project cost.

§ Authorized the Municipal Electrical and Gas Alliance (MEGA) to bid for outdoor solar lighting products on behalf of the County, as well as all other political subdivision and districts within the state that wish to participate.  The systems would be for installation or use on municipal or government property to produce energy to be consumed by the municipality or sold back to a local utility.

§ Registered the County’s strong support of the State Environmental Protection Fund, urging that $300 million for the fund be included in the 2009-10 state budget and that the fund continue to be supported through the state’s Real Estate Transfer Tax, with at least $287 million in revenue for the upcoming fiscal year.

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