Highlights of the March 6, 2001 meeting of the

Tompkins County Board of Representatives


The Board voted 12-2 (Michael Lane and Dooley Kiefer voted no; Thomas Todd was absent) to allow tax breaks for new or renovated multi-story projects in downtown Ithaca. The plan, which now moves to the Industrial Development Agency (IDA) for final approval, was adopted by Ithaca Common Council in July, 2000, and was endorsed by the Ithaca City School District. The County Board okayed the plan – which is intended to encourage denser development in populated areas and discourage sprawl – in an amended form. The City and the school district would allow up to 100 percent property tax relief in the first year of approved projects. Diminishing abatements would occur yearly for 10 years, after which the full tax would be charged. The County would allow only a 50 percent abatement in County property tax in the first year, in accordance with standard IDA practice for other projects. The City’s proposed tax abatement district includes Inlet Island and several blocks between the Cayuga Inlet and North Meadow Street, the State Street corridor, and the Ithaca Commons and surrounding blocks. Abatements could also be granted in towns and villages in the County.


Tompkins and Cortland counties have ended talks regarding a possible shared jail facility. Tim Joseph, chair of a committee that has met periodically with Cortland County officials since last May, announced that the group has determined that a joint facility is not feasible. Among the potential difficulties Joseph listed are reconciling the way the two jails are run, dealing with two different pay scales, and questions about how each Sheriff would meet legal responsibilities to oversee his "home" county’s jail population. Joseph said the cost of transportation to a shared facility would be a burden to both counties, and that receiving state aid to build or run the facility is unlikely. He also noted that both jails have seen a decline in population in the last two years, and that both counties have started Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI) programs intended to reduce numbers of inmates. Joseph said the timing of the study made sense for the two counties, each of which has identified inadequacies in its own jail, but that a shared facility is not the solution. Each county contributed $30,000 to pay a consultant. To date, each has spent just over $8,000. Any remaining funds will be returned in equal portion to the counties’ coffers.


The Board voted unanimously (13-1; Frank Proto voted no; Thomas Todd was absent) to allocate $158,645 in previously set-aside funds for program start-ups at the Community Justice Center. The Center, housed in the lower level of the old library building on North Cayuga Street, will provide mandatory education, counseling, life skills training, and other services to appropriate clients, as an alternative to jail. Funding was approved for the following agencies to run programs at the Center: Literacy Volunteers, Community Dispute Resolution Center, Youth Advocacy Program, and the Alcoholism Council of Tompkins County. Justice Center Director Becky Richmond says the Center will open in the Spring.


By a vote of 11-3 (Tim Joseph, George Totman, and Daniel Winch voted no; Thomas Todd was absent), the Board agreed to allocate $17,000 in contingency funds to the Tompkins County Public Library to hire a security guard. Library Director Janet Steiner says that since its move to East Green Street, the library has seen an increase in the number of incidents that regular library staff feel unable to handle. Stuart Stein explained that the Board’s approval of money to hire a security guard is a stopgap measure and that the Board encourages the library to look for other solutions to handling unruly patrons.


The Board unanimously (14-0; Thomas Todd was absent) approved a contract for purchase of electricity through the Municipal Electric and Gas Alliance (MEGA) from Advantage Energy, Inc. Advantage Energy, based in Hamburg, New York, was the lower of two bidders and will provide electric power to MEGA members from March 15, 2001 through March 31, 2003. The Municipal Electric and Gas Alliance has business, municipal, and residential customer-members in Tompkins, Tioga, Broome, and Otsego counties. Two-year savings over purchase of electricity from New York State Electric and Gas (NYSEG) have been estimated as follows:

-- Total municipal accounts -- $162,000-$267,000

-- Total residential accounts -- $142,000 (a savings of $86-$155 per household over two years)

-- Total commercial accounts -- $557,000

MEGA is accepting new members in the four counties. Information is available from Jennifer Luu, at 607-273-1913.


ROOM TAX: The Board voted 12-1-1 (George Totman voted no; Nancy Schuler abstained; Thomas Todd was absent) to endorse state legislation that will allow the County to raise the local hotel and motel room occupancy tax from its current 3 percent to as much as 5 percent of the daily rate.

SALES TAX: The Board voted 11-3 (Reps. Frank Proto, Nancy Schuler, and Daniel Winch voted no) to ask the state legislature to extend the County’s additional 1 percent sales tax – in effect since December, 1992 – for two more years. A previous request to extend the tax for four years was turned down. The total sales tax in Tompkins County is 8 percent.

PROPERTY TAX EXEMPTIONS: The Board passed two laws dealing with property tax exemptions, one to change income limits for disabled persons to allow more to apply for a tax break, and the other to allow for a tax exemption for home living quarters for parents and grandparents.

NEW IT DIRECTOR: County Administrator Stephen Whicher announced that the County has hired a new Director of Information Technology Services. George McClure, who comes from a similar job in Sullivan County, will start April 2. Current IT Director Greg Potter resigned from the position to become head of the County’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) program.

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