County Commits to Join Health Insurance Consortium
More than two years after study began toward establishing a more cost-effective way for county municipalities to support employee health benefits, the Legislature committed the County to participate in a countywide inter-municipal coalition which would make those plans reality. The Legislature, by a vote of 12-2, authorized the County to enter into an inter-municipal agreement, with the Greater Tompkins County Health Insurance Consortium, effective January 1, 2010. (Legislators Greg Stevenson and Kathy Luz Herrera voted no; Legislator Jim Dennis was excused.) The opportunity to explore the consortium arrangement and to build a plan structure was supported through a more than quarter-million-dollar New York State Shared Municipal Services Incentive program grant, awarded to Tompkins County in 2007 on behalf of the Tompkins County Council of Governments (TCCOG).
Through economies of scale, lower administrative fees and greater financial control, the program is projected to save municipalities money, without diminishing employee benefits. It is scheduled to begin operation at the beginning of next year and would be the first inter-municipal Consortium of its kind in New York State.
Government Performance and Workforce Relations Committee Chair Nathan Shinagawa, who has been actively involved in TCCOG’s Health Benefits Steering Committee, commended everyone who has worked on the proposal over the past two years and predicted the program will benefit the county and its residents, saying that “a vote in favor is a vote for efficiency, common sense and saving taxpayer dollars.” Legislator Martha Robertson noted that the prospect of a shared health benefits program was a driving force behind formation of the Council of Governments three years ago.
Legislator Kathy Luz Herrera expressed concern that, as presently structured, Tompkins County would assume greater risk and that the arrangement might lead to an eventual lowering of standards. Legislator Stevenson maintained not enough is known about what will happen should the Consortium cease to exist and questioned whether providing health insurance through the Consortium would amount to a mandatory subject of bargaining. Legislator Frank Proto moved to postpone action until the next meeting to permit additional briefing, which failed by a vote of 4-10—Proto, Herrera, Mike Sigler and Chair Mike Koplinka-Loehr voting in favor of delay. County Administrator Joe Mareane told legislators the process of developing the Consortium has been “unbelievably good and absolutely transparent” and that he is “very supportive of what is being proposed.”
The County joins the Towns of Ithaca, Groton, Ulysses, Caroline and Danby, which have already indicated their intent to participate in the Consortium. The Ithaca City Common Council is scheduled to consider the matter July 1.
Contact: Nathan Shinagawa, Chair, Government Performance and Workforce Relations Committee, 280-7557
Legislature Adopts 2009-2010 TC3 Budget
Following a public hearing, the Legislature, by a vote of 11-3, adopted the proposed 2009-2010 operating budget for Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3). (Legislators Martha Robertson, Mike Hattery and Mike Sigler voted no; Legislator Jim Dennis was excused.) The $34.6 million budget includes a sponsoring community contribution from Tompkins and Cortland Counties of more than $4.2 million, an increase of 3% from the current year.
Legislator Robertson said she supports and values TC3, but cannot in good conscience justify a 3% increase for the college at a time when departments and agency targets are being cut by at least 6.25%. Legislator Frank Proto noted that the 3% increase in sponsor support represents a compromise with the college’s other sponsor, Cortland County. He said this decision is the first in a series of prioritizations the Legislature will have to deal with as part of the 2010 budget. The action takes effect upon adoption of a concurrent resolution by the Cortland County Legislature.
Contact: Legislator Pamela Mackesey, Budget, Capital and Finance Committee, 273-6203; Legislator Martha Robertson, 272-0584; Dr. Carl Haynes, President, Tompkins Cortland Community College, 844-8211.
Clarification of 2010 Budget Guidelines
Legislators heard additional explanation about the budget guidelines adopted two weeks ago, which set a 6.25% target reduction for departments and agencies as an initial step in the 2010 County budget process. County Administrator Joe Mareane clarified what it will take to meet the reduction and provide the $2.4 million needed to balance the budget. Although the County centralized employee fringe expenses a couple of years ago, Mareane said that to reflect true cost in preparing their budgets, departments must apply the reduction not only to their operating budgets. but also to the cost of their employee fringe expense at the County’s increased fringe rate for 2010, which is largely due to increased employer pension cost. That requirement, he said, makes the actual reduction in costs other than fringe that departments will need to make greater than the 6.25% target—on average, a reduction of 10%. Considering the importance of the challenges ahead, the administrator said it is important that all have common understanding of what the fiscal targets mean.
Contact: County Administrator Joe Mareane, 274-5551.
Legislature Supports Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act
By a vote of 10-4, the Legislature urged State Legislature passage of the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act, a bill currently awaiting action by the New York State Senate. The Act would grant farmworkers collective bargaining rights, workers compensation, unemployment benefits, and other labor protections provided to workers in the state. Many maintained that providing the protections was the right thing to do, and it was noted that family farms would be exempted. Legislators Mike Sigler, Greg Stevenson, Mike Hattery and Frank Proto voted no, maintaining that there should be more time for review and obtain input from farmers, constituents and the Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board. A motion to postpone consideration failed by a vote of 5-9.
Contact: Legislator Carol Chock, 273-9007;Legislator Frank Proto, 277-4875.
Two Young People Recognized for Life-Saving Actions
Thirteen-year-old Christian Schuepback and eight-year-old Jordon Lu were recognized as this month’s Tompkins County Distinguished Youth. Schuepback was nominated by Officer Stephen Moracco and Lt.Vince Monticello of the Ithaca Police Department for his quick action and alerting of authorities, which were instrumental in saving the lives of a woman and her dog who had broken through the ice at the 30 Foot Dam in Six Mile Creek in March. Jordon Lu was nominated by Ithaca Firefighter Brian Pendell and Lt. Dave Burbank for quick action she took and assistance she provided to a classmate suffering a severe allergic reaction, and the assistance she provided firefighters at the incident. 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.
Among other actions, the Legislature
- Requested that the State Legislature designate State Route 38 as the New York State Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Highway.
- Authorized a contract with the Tompkins County Soil and Water Conservation District to implement flood hazard mitigation program projects. $25,000 to support these projects is included in the 2009 County budget.
- Authorized a 2009 Federal Transit Administration Section 5307 grant application on behalf of Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit, GADABOUT and Tompkins County. Total grant budget is more than $15.5 million. The grant would support items including replacement of seven 40-foot diesel buses for TCAT and ten paratransit buses for GADABOUT.
- Awarded Tourism Capital Grants to the Hangar Theatre, the Kitchen Theatre and Ithaca Motion Picture program and a $2,000 Tourism Project Grant and $1,500 Tourism Marketing and Advertising Grant Finger Lakes Finns to support the 2009 Finn Funn Weekend. The Tourism Grants program is funded by county room occupancy tax dollars.