Highlights of the May 5, 2009 meeting
of the Tompkins County Legislature

 In Split Vote, Legislature Sets 3 Percent Tax Levy Goal
The Legislature has established a 3% tax levy increase goal as the County’s financial goal for the 2010 budget, but tonight’s decision was not easy.  The final vote, which followed 45 minutes of discussion, was 8-7, with Legislators Mike Hattery, Dooley Kiefer, Pam Mackesey, Tyke Randall, Will Burbank and Carol Chock and Martha Robertson voting no.
The 3% levy goal, which had been recommended by the Legislature’s budget committee, requires County Administrator Joe Mareane to incorporate close to $4.4 million in program changes, through spending reductions or new revenue, to the tentative budget he will present to the Legislature in September, a task that he has cautioned will be “extraordinarily difficult” since the County is experiencing the local impacts of a global recession.  The 3% target translates to an average county tax rate of $5.93 per thousand dollars assessed valuation, a decrease of one-tenth of one percent, or a 59 cent decrease for a $100,000 home, assuming no change in assessed value. 
The difficulty of the challenges ahead, the impact on citizens and the magnitude of reductions that will be required, especially in light of mandates, were mentioned again and again, as Legislators worked toward their decision.  Legislator Dooley Kiefer was one who maintained that the 3% target  was too deep and could set the County up to hurt the people it is trying to help, as a “safety net” provider.  Legislator Martha Robertson proposed a 4% levy target, which she said would still be difficult, but more achievable.  That motion failed by an 11-4 vote, with Legislators Robertson, Pam Mackesey, Nathan Shinagawa and Carol Chock voting in favor.  Legislator Kathy Luz Herrera characterized the 3% target as a “compromise” goal, and she and Legislator Mike Sigler both said that, in light of the current economic realities, there will have to be things that county government must do without.  Legislator Shinagawa also warned that at 3% “we need to economize, it’s going to be painful, it’s going to be difficult, and we should brace ourselves.”  
The proposed 3% target first failed by 7-8 vote with Sigler voting no, along with Hattery, Kiefer, Mackesey, Randall, Burbank and Chock and Robertson.  Legislator Sigler then advanced a proposal to set the target at 0%, which failed by a vote of 4-11 (Sigler, Herrera, Greg Stevenson and Mike Hattery voting in favor.)  After the 3% target was moved for reconsideration, Legislator Robertson proposed an amendment setting the target at 3.5%, which failed by a 6-9 vote (Robertson, Shinagawa, Chock, Kiefer Burbank and Mackesey voting in favor.)   In the revote on the 3% target, Sigler changed his vote, and the 3% goal was approved 8-7.
Budget committee chair Jim Dennis observed that the 3% goal is a challenge to the County Administrator and to department heads to see if they could meet this goal and, if they can’t, to come back to the Legislature.
Contact:  James Dennis, Chair, Budget, Capital and Finance Committee, 387-4058; County Administrator Joe Mareane, 274-5551.
Contract Ratified for White Collar Employees, Management and Confidential Salaries Adjusted
After considerable discussion, the Legislature ratified a one-year bargaining agreement with the Civil Service Employees Association, White Collar Unit and also approved 2009 salary increases for management and confidential personnel.  The white collar agreement, which has already ratified been by union members, increases base salaries by 2.25% for 2009, retroactive to January 1, and extends other terms and conditions of the previous one-year agreement.  The white collar agreement was ultimately ratified by a vote of 11-3, with one abstention (Legislators Mike Hattery, Dooley Kiefer and Frank Proto opposed, and Legislator Greg Stevenson abstaining because of a conflict of interest.)  
2.25% salary increases for managerial and confidential employees were proposed, and ultimately approved, but it took a series of votes to reach that decision.  Much of the debate focused on whether salary increases for management employees should be approved at this time, in light of the current financial challenges, and whether increases should be awarded on a percentage basis.  Several proposal amendments failed to win support—including those that would have increased management salaries by $1,000 per employee or by 2.25% up to a maximum of $1,500.  In the final vote, 2.25% salary increases for management and confidential employees were approved by a 9-6 vote, Legislators Mike Hattery, Dooley Kiefer, Pam Mackesey, Frank Proto, Will Burbank and Carol Chock voting no.
While confidential salaries adjustments, by resolution, are set at the same negotiated for white collar employees, Legislator Martha Robertson was one who maintained that for management the County had a choice, that 2.25% raises would for managerial employees would produce a more than $130,000 expense this year and another $130,000 next year at the time when the County’s budget target forces significant cuts.  Others countered that it would be inappropriate to forgo management increases, at the time that managers are being asked to find ways in which the County can achieve $4.4 million in reductions for 2010.
Contact:  James Dennis, Chair, Budget, Capital and Finance Committee, 387-4058.
Legislators Hear Presentation on Proposed Health Benefits Consortium
The Legislature and other municipal officials heard an updated presentation from consultant Steve Locey concerning the proposed shared services health benefits program for Tompkins County municipalities, which has been under study for the past two years.  The goal of the consortium approach is for individual municipalities to pool their resources in an effort to provide health insurance plans less costly than can be purchased by each municipality on its own, without diminishing benefits.  Detailing cost projections and 2010 premium rates, Locey estimated 2010 premium increases for Tompkins County at 6% and for the City of Ithaca at 3%;  taken together, those two municipalities would hold more than 85% of the contracts within the consortium.  The consultant stressed that benefits offered through the consortium will be equal to or better than existing plans, with municipal employers retaining control the collective bargaining process, including such factors as benefits eligibility and the plans available to their employees.  Each legislative body would choose a representative to the consortium Board of Directors.  Municipalities are being asked to approve resolutions to participate in the consortium by July 2009, then to sign the consortium agreement by September, with the plan scheduled to begin operation as of the beginning of 2010.
Contact:  Nathan Shinagawa, Chair, Government Performance and Workforce Relations Committee, 280-7557
Legislature Endorses State Legislation to Extend Sales Tax Authority
The Legislature, by a vote of 11-4, formally endorsed state legislation to extend its additional 1% sales and use tax authority for two more years, from its scheduled expiration in November 2009 to November 30, 2011.  (Legislators Kathy Luz Herrera, Frank Proto, Tyke Randall and Will Burbank voted no.)  Though criticized as as a regressive tax, the additional 1% in tax, it was noted, was something that the County can come to depend upon for revenue. The additional 1% tax has been in place since 1992.  The Legislature formally requested the enabling state legislation late last year. 
Contact:  James Dennis, Chair, Budget, Capital and Finance Committee, 387-4058; Legislator Frank Proto, 277-4875.

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