Highlights of the July 15, 2014 meeting of the

Tompkins County Legislature


Legislature Backs New Process for Potential Development of Biggs Parcel

Following the recommendation of two of its committees, the Legislature, after two hours of thoughtful discussion, approved a new process for consideration of potential development of the remaining County-owned portion of the Biggs property on Harris B. Dates Drive.  The Legislature first repealed two resolutions related to the project passed last November, then authorized prospective developer NRP Properties, LLC, working in partnership with Better Housing for Tompkins County, to apply to the Town of Ithaca for a project on the 25-acre site.


The new authorization will allow State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) to be completed by the Town, with the County an involved agency.  The Legislature made it clear that the County is not committed to any further action regarding the property, that tonight’s action is not a decision to sell the property, and that any future decision regarding sale of the property will only be considered upon completion of the coordinated SEQR process.


The Legislature, by a 12-1 vote (Legislator Dooley Kiefer dissenting and Legislator Kathy Luz Herrera excused) first repealed the two past resolutions that  had authorized the County to enter into a sales agreement with NRP, which had been contingent, in part, upon receiving moderate income housing tax credits, applied for last November, but not approved.  That resolution and agreement had also provided that any sale of the property would be contingent upon approval of the project by the Town of Ithaca, including completion of a Town SEQR review.  Since then, several Town residents challenged the County SEQR review in State court, where a decision is still pending.  (Legislator Kiefer had supported delaying action until after resolution of the court case, and amending the existing agreement.)


The authorization for NRP to proceed to the Town of Ithaca for Review (authorization necessary since NRP does not own the land) came by a 9-3 margin, Legislators Mike Sigler, Peter Stein, and Kiefer voting no, and Legislator Luz Herrera excused; Legislator Carol Chock recused herself because of potential family connections with Better Housing.  Mr. Sigler expressed deep concern about the obvious “bad blood” between the Legislature and West Hill residents over the project—about 40 people attended the meeting and close to a dozen spoke out against the project before the vote.  Legislator Sigler said the County should step back and totally start fresh, and ask what kind of development residents want.  Legislator Stein said he couldn’t ignore concerns that have been voiced.  Among those who spoke out against the project and the process before the votes was Linda Grace-Kobas, on behalf of the Indian Creek Neighborhood Association, who said, “We are against this project because it’s too big for our neighborhood and too destructive,” urging that the County fully reopen its Request for Proposals process.


Before the Legislature acted, Planning Commissioner Ed Marx spoke of the huge and ongoing need for quality, affordable housing in Tompkins County, arising from insufficient housing supply to support the county’s growing economy.  “This site has some shortcomings, as every site does,” he said.  “There is no site that doesn’t elicit some concerns, and all have some legitimacy.  We need to balance those concerns with meeting our housing needs.”

Speaking in support of the authorization before the vote, Legislators Will Burbank, Jim Dennis, and Government Operations Chair Nathan Shinagawa all said they believe that moving the project forward in this new way is the correct approach, and that they will listen to concerns as it moves forward to the Town of Ithaca and should it return in the future before the Legislature.

Contact:  Contact:  Nathan Shinagawa, Chair, Government Operations Committee, 280-7557; James Dennis, Chair, Budget, Capital and Personnel Committee, 387-4058; Ed Marx, Commissioner of Planning, 274-5560.


County Opts Back in for Solar, Alternative Energy Exemption

Following a public hearing, the Legislature voted to repeal a Local Law passed in 2012 that opts out of a section of State Real Property Tax Law providing exemptions related to construction of solar, wind or farm waste energy systems.  The vote to repeal came without dissent, with Legislators Leslyn McBean-Clairborne and Kathy Luz Herrera excused.  While Assessment Director Jay Franklin has advised that construction of such residential systems has had no effect on property assessments, leaders and supporters of the Solar Tompkins program have indicated that status of the 15-year solar exemption has been a repeated concern among those who are considering participation in the program.  At the hearing, nearly a dozen people urged restoration of the exemption.


In 2012, the County had chosen to opt out of the exemption since there was no distinction between residential and commercial systems in the Real Property Tax Law, and it wished to encourage the commercial Black Oak Wind Farm toward a Payment-in-Lieu-of –Taxes agreement.  Black Oak, it was noted, has since begun the process of pursuing a PILOT agreement, regardless of the status of the alternative energy exemption. 


The restored exemption applies only to the County portion of the property tax.

Contact:  Carol Chock, Chair, Planning, Energy, and Environmental Quality Committee, 273-9007; Director of Assessment Jay Franklin, 274-5517.


Recognition of Tompkins as Top Digital County

Chair Mike Lane, and the Legislature, congratulated County staff for achieving national recognition for Tompkins County as one of the nation’s top digital counties by the Center for Digital Government and the National Association of Counties.  The award identifies best technology practices among counties nationwide, recognizing leading examples of counties that use technology to improve services and boost efficiencies.


Chair Lane publicly thanked and recognized Deputy County Clerk Maureen Reynolds for achievement of one major element spearheaded by her office and Information Technology Services—an innovative use of digital records scanning system for records management that saved the County $5.5 million over a physical records facility and has been shared with all other municipalities in the county.   Mr. Lane said the Legislature is very proud of the efforts done to digitize County records and to reach out to other municipalities.  Clerk Reynolds stressed that the program is not just those offices’ work but a successful collaboration.


More information on the County’s award may be found on the County’s website at http://tompkinscountyny.gov/news/tompkins-county-achieves-national-recognition-top-digital-county.

Contact:  Michael Lane, Chair of the Legislature, 274-5434, 844-8313, or 844-8440; Deputy County Clerk Maureen Reynolds, 274-5442.


County Achieves Highly Favorable Results in Recent Bond Sale

County Finance Director Rick Snyder reported to Legislators that the County’s recent sale of more than $9.5 million in one-year Bond Anticipation Notes, with funds received July 14, came at a very low interest rate of only 0.182%--that’s about half the rate of the net interest rate (0.358%) paid on notes one year ago. Mr. Snyder said the interest payment for the $9.5 million in BANs will be less than $17,500.


Approximately $5.8 million of the proceeds went to refinance the one-year Bond Anticipation Notes from last year, and the remainder of approx. $3.8 million went to finance new projects, which include the Human Services Building Expansion, the Public Safety Building Renovation, and the reconstruction of roads and bridges.

Contact:  Finance Director Rick Snyder, 274-5544.


Among other items, Chair Lane, as Chair of the Legislature’s special committee on the future of the Old Library site, announced that he has received a letter from Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services Director Paul Mazzarella, withdrawing his organization’s Expression of Interest in developing the Old Library site.  The withdrawal reduces the preliminary proposals currently under review by the committee to five.  Review of those proposals continues July 16.


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Marcia E. Lynch
Public Information Officer
Tompkins County
125 E. Court Street
Ithaca, NY  14850
Tel: 607-274-5555/Fax: 607-274-5558