Highlights of the September 1, 2009 meeting
of the Tompkins County Legislature

Administrator Presents 2010 Tentative Budget

County Administrator Joe Mareane delivered to the County Legislature a 2010 Tentative County Budget that calls for reductions in both spending and workforce, while meeting the Legislature’s goal of increasing the tax levy by no more than 3 percent.


The recommended budget totals $73.1 million in local spending.  The budget reduces spending by $1 million (1.3%) and the County’s workforce by 26 full-time equivalent positions (3.4%), while striving to maintain a scope of services responsive to community needs.  It calls for the 3% increase in the tax levy (the total amount of property tax revenue that must be collected to balance the budget) and increases the tax rate (the amount property owners pay per thousand dollars assessed value) by one cent, to $5.94.


Administrator Mareane stressed that  “daunting” economic forces have shaped this budget, not County excess.  “Our problems are not a reflection of a government that has been living beyond its means, is wasteful or inefficient, or has chosen to provide services that are nice to do, but not essential,” the administrator states.  “In fact, we are the opposite of that.  This government is lean, productive, and focused on services that respond to the real needs of our community.  Therefore, the decisions that will be made as a part of the 2010 budget process will be extraordinarily difficult—made not to “trim the fat”, but with the recognition that we must adapt to an environment that has been profoundly impacted by a global recession that is broad and deep.”     


Economic pressures on the 2010 budget include a projected million-dollar drop in sales tax revenue from what was budgeted in 2009, a million-dollar increase in the cost of mandated programs, and a $1.2 million increase in mandated employee pension expense—reflecting the first installment in rapidly rising employer contributions to offset significant losses in the State pension fund.


The recommended budget maintains a “balanced response” to the County’s fiscal challenges, filling the County’s projected $4.8 million budget gap through both increased revenue and reduced spending. 


The package will be the focus of legislative review through the Expanded Budget Committee over the next two months, leading to legislative action in November.

Contacts:  County Administrator Joe Mareane, 274-5551; James Dennis, Chair, Budget, Capital and  Finance Committee, 387-4058; Michael Koplinka-Loehr, Chair of the Legislature, 274-5434 or 257-2329.


Budget Community Advisory Panel Delivers 2009 Report

The Budget Community Advisory Panel, whose initial study in 2004 produced wide-ranging fiscal recommendations which, in part, led to the County’s current budget process, presented the Legislature with an updated report on County fiscal practices and policies,  which recommends how the County should respond to its current fiscal challenges.  The citizen panel, reconvened by the County Administrator and Chair of the Legislature’s Budget, Capital and Finance Committee in May, from its renewed three-month-long study finds that:

§         The economy is not likely to rebound quickly from the current recession. which may produce long-term structural changes in the nation’s economy.  The recession’s effects on New York State create high probability of immediate and future cuts in state aid to public entities, with counties particularly vulnerable because of the nature of the services they provide.  Effects of the recession on the State Retirement System will drastically increase costs for every government across New York State.

§         Competition for property tax dollars from taxpayers will intensify, when even moderate increases in local tax levies are likely to exceed affordability for large segments of the population. 

§         Rapid rise of fringe benefit expenses may create ever-increasing gaps in total compensation between public employees and those in the private and not-for-profit sectors.

§         The current scope and level of County services are not sustainable in this new environment, requiring long-term solutions to achieve a sustainable budget, including elimination or reduction of non-essential programs, service delivery by a smaller County workforce. and possible shift of some services to non-governmental organizations.  Mandated programs must also be examined for potential cost-saving strategies.


The Panel recommends specific immediate and longer-term actions by the County under the categories of People, Programs, and Partnerships.  Among the Panel’s recommendations:



§         Reduce the number of County employees through such strategies as productivity improvements and reducing the scope of County services and programs.  As part of productivity improvements, undertake a “Lean Office” initiative  to develop streamlined processes to deliver services.

§         Restrain growth in compensation by reducing wage and salary levels and the taxpayer-supported cost of employee health benefits.



§         Approach 2010 budget review from a programmatic perspective, beginning to prioritize programs as part of the process.

§         Respond to targeted state aid reductions, where possible, by reducing the service supported with that aid, rather than replacing the aid with local dollars.

§         Institute an organization-wide system of program evaluation, performance measurement, and benchmarking—not as a budget tool but as a management strategy to assess and improve performance, and to work toward operational efficiencies.

§         Establish a “business case” protocol for review of capital projects and proposed programs.



§         Continue to reach out to other governments and organizations to explore areas of mutual interest and benefit, with the goal of providing more efficient, cost-effective service to taxpayers.


Panel member John Neuman commended the County for making significant strides in cost control over the past five years, but noted that much more needs to be done in today’s challenging environment.  He said the Panel “truly believes that the Legislature is at a point where it can lead the way in the current difficult economic environment and become broadly known for smart, instigative, yet sensitive management of the tough trade-offs between what is desirable in services of all kinds and what is truly affordable.”


The Budget Community Advisory Panel’s full report is available for review at the County’s website at http://www.tompkins-co.org/pubinfo/budget.

Contact:  John Neuman, Budget Community Advisory Panel, 273-2112; James Dennis, Chair, Budget, Capital and  Finance Committee, 387-4058 .


Legislature Expresses Concern About Proposed Federal Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting Rules

The Legislature, by a vote of 12-3, voiced official concern about possible new Federal Aviation Administration rules regarding aircraft firefighting and rescue.  (Legislators Mike Hattery, Tyke Randall and Chair Mike Koplinka-Loehr voted no.)  Supporting an alternate proposal advanced by Legislator Dooley Kiefer, the Legislature, stopped short of opposing any or all changes in the regulations and citing specific predicted adverse local impacts, including a significant increase in the local airport firefighting force.  The Legislature’s action urges that Senators Schumer and Gillibrand to “pay attention to details of the rulemaking as they apply to small commercial airport whose level of congestion and needs are not automatically the same as the major commercial airports.”  While supporting the resolution, Legislator Mike Sigler suggested it didn’t go far enough, predicting it could very well lead to a federal mandate that the County will have to pay for.

Contact:  Dooley Kiefer, Vice Chair, Facilities and Infrastructure Committee, 257-7453; Airport Manager Robert Nicholas, 257-0456.


Among other actions, the Legislature


§         Awarded contracts to upgrade the County human resources and payroll system, a capital project studied and developed over the past two years and discussed for much longer.  Lawson Software, Inc., of St. Paul, MN was awarded the software contract, at a cost of $233,414 and Kinsey and Kinsey, of Glen Ellyn, IL, the implementation contract, at a cost of $344,870.  Funds are already budgeted through the 2009 capital budget.


§         Approved several updates to policy and procedure revisions as part of the ongoing program to update the County’s administrative policy manual, and updated the rule of the Legislature governing parameters for how Legislators interact with departments and staff to acquire and disclose information.


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