Highlights of the August 18, 2009 meeting
of the Tompkins County Legislature

Legislature Addresses 2009 Budget Challenges

The Legislature, by a vote of 13-1, authorized a series of internal account transfers and policy changes to bring the 2009 budget into balance, reconciling a projected $3.5 million budget shortfall.  (Legislator Mike Sigler voted no; Legislator Kathy Luz Herrera was excused.)  Policy changes include a flexible freeze on hiring and on equipment purchases greater than $2,000, as well as a temporary suspension of the County’s rollover policy which would allocate department personnel-related savings during 2009 to offset projected County deficits, rather than being retained by departments.


Legislator Sigler maintained that the action to implement a flexible freeze was not needed, since the Legislature had already acted earlier this year to authorize the County Administrator to review all department requests to fill open positions, and he noted that policy has already produced results.  Administrator Joe Mareane, who along with Finance Director David Squires had recommended the adjustments, responded that the action formally puts the Legislature on record indicating that the County is at a very difficult time requiring vigilance on both hiring and equipment.  All elements, he said, are part of a general belt-tightening effort that is essential this year.


The expected shortfall reflects deficits in sales tax receipts, state aid, social services programs, interest earnings, and the Assigned Counsel budget.  Available resources come from nearly $1.8 million in federal stimulus funding and $800,000 in personnel-related savings, among other sources.

Contact:  Jim Dennis, Chair, Budget, Capital and Finance Committee 387-4058; Legislator Mike Sigler, 339-7978;County Administrator Joe Mareane, 274-5551.


Legislature Voices Support for Dairy Farmers

Expressing serious concern over the current dairy fiscal crisis, the Legislature urged the federal government to take immediate steps to help provide relieve from the economic challenges facing New York’s dairy farmers and to preserve local dairy production.  The vote was 13-1, with Legislator Dooley Kiefer voting no, and Legislator Kathy Luz Herrera excused.  The action notes that dairy farmers are struggling to meet their financial commitments because of historically low milk prices coupled with erratically high energy, feed and fertilizer costs, and predicts that many well-run dairy farms will be unable to continue in business in this fiscal climate unless the government takes “immediate, decisive, meaningful action.” 


The Legislature urges that the government immediately provide additional funding to increase payments to dairy farmers from the Milk Income Loss Contract program; utilize the Dairy Export Incentive Program and Food for Peace Program to move dairy commodities off the domestic market; temporarily increase the product price levels in the Dairy Product Price Support Program; and make immediate dairy product purchases for Women, Infants & Children (WIC) and other nutrition programs which received large funding increases from the Federal stimulus package.  It also calls for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to implement long-range policies to address the situation. 


Legislator Kiefer, who had proposed an amended version with alternate, more general wording which failed by a vote of 4-10, said she had to oppose the original resolution since she does not have sufficient knowledge of the specific actions being recommended.  She said it’s clear that something be done to change the way in which the nation funds its dairy industry.

Contact:  Pamela Mackesey, Chair, Planning , Development, and Environmental Quality Committee, 273-6203; Legislator Dooley Kiefer, 257-4361.


County to Pursue “Blueway Trail” Partnership

The Legislature authorized the County to apply for grant funds, through the New York State Environmental Protection Fund Local Waterfront Revitalization Program to develop a Cayuga Lake Blueway Trail, in partnership with Seneca and Cayuga Counties, to enhance public access to Cayuga Lake.  The vote was 9-5, with Legislators Frank Proto, Will Burbank, Tyke Randall and Mike Hattery voting no, and Legislator Kathy Luz Herrera excused.  The action authorizes the County Planning Department to develop and submit a coordinated application, with each county committing to a 50% match, of $20,000 for in-kind staff time over a two-year period.  County Planning Director Ed Marx noted that development of the small boat and paddling route is consistent with policies of the County’s Comprehensive Plan, which supports appropriate development to enhance public access to the lake.  Legislator Proto called the proposal worthwhile, but premature, and expressed concern that in a challenging budget environment the program will stretch Planning Department staff resources too thin.  He unsuccessfully sought to delay consideration for a month until after the County begins its 2010 budget process, a proposal which failed by a vote of 4-10.  The delay would have placed action after the grant submission deadline.

Contact:  Pamela Mackesey, Chair, Planning , Development, and Environmental Quality Committee, 273-6203; Planning and Public Works Commissioner Ed Marx, 274-5560; Legislator Frank Proto, 277-4875.


Legislature Urges State to Permit “Green Loans” Programs

The Legislature, by a vote of 13-1, after no discussion asked the State to amend General Municipal Law to allow counties and other municipalities, to provide financing for “green loan” programs for building improvements to increase energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  (Legislator Mike Hattery voted no; Legislator, Kathy Luz Herrera was excused.)  The resolution notes that current state law only allows such loans to be offered through complex authorities or by requesting special authorization from the State Legislature and that a “green loans” program would be an important element in meeting the County’s energy and greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal, to achieve at least an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050.

Contact:  Pamela Mackesey, Chair, Planning , Development, and Environmental Quality Committee, 273-6203; Legislator Mike Hattery, 844-4361; Planning and Public Works Commissioner Ed Marx, 274-5560.


Andrew Sternglass Recognized as Distinguished Youth

Eagle Scout Andrew Sternglass was recognized as this month’s Tompkins County Distinguished Youth. Nominated by Ithaca Town Supervisor Herb Engman and other town staff, Andrew was especially honored for his work in leading his Boy Scout Troop in completing beautification of a new playground in the Eastern Heights neighborhood.  Andrew helped design the project and led the beautification effort with support of his troop and other volunteers.  Supervisor Engman said the program has also led to a long-term commitment by the Scouts to maintain the park through the town’s Adopt-a-Park program Supervisor Engman praised Andrew’s valuable association with the town and his community.  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

  •  Authorized a two-year extension, through November 30,2009, of the County’s one-percent sales tax, to 8%, first enacted in 1992.
  •  Authorized the Municipal Electric and Gas Alliance (MEGA) to request proposals for outdoor solar products on behalf of Tompkins County and all other political subdivisions and districts within New York State.  The vote was 13-1, with Legislator Dooley Kiefer opposed, because of questions concerning MEGA’s expertise on this issue.
  •  Continued designation of the Ithaca/Tompkins County Convention and Visitors Bureau as the County’s tourism promotion agency for the 2009-2010 state fiscal year.


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