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tc seal120The Legislature's Government Operations Committee recommended Wednesday appropriating $15,000 in contingent funds to support a structural, mechanical, and codes assessment of the Tompkins Trust building on the Ithaca Commons.  The study would be an initial step in the County's exploration of possible acquisition and reuse of the building as a new home for The History Center in Tompkins County and a proposed heritage education center.

The funding proposal, which will be considered by two more committees before going to the full Legislature, was recommended by a unanimous 5-0 vote.  It would assess the condition of the building's structural and mechanical systems, as well as any required code-related improvements.

Potential purchase of the building is being considered before The History Center's 25-year lease in the Gateway Commons Building expires at the end of 2018, and is tied to the County's longstanding role of providing space for a museum that preserves the records and artifacts that document the County's history.  County Administrator Joe Mareane noted that the County allocates about $100,000 each year to support the History Center's lease of space appropriate to its important place in the community.  Calling The History Center "a hidden asset," Mareane said that a more visible space, as anchor for a heritage education center housing several other non-profits that promote the area's history and culture, would maximize the Center's role as a community attraction and tourism destination.   Speaking in support of exploring potential acquisition, Legislator Rich John remarked, "I really think there is a possibility here to do something good and significant for the community."

The Committee also discussed and advanced a recommended salary level for the 14 members of the Legislature for the next four-year legislative term, which begins in 2018.  The Legislature traditionally sets the level of legislator compensation well in advance of elections for the new term.  Legislator salaries were set at $19,075 for each year of the current term, which began in 2014.  Legislators, it was noted, have received only a single raise of $375 over the past seven years.

After discussing several potential alternatives, the committee voted 4-1, Legislator John dissenting, to recommend an increase in legislator salaries to $21,400 for each of the term's four years, 2018 through 2021, with the Chair of the Legislature continuing to earn 50% more than the base salary.  Legislator Will Burbank said he voted in favor to move the issue along to the full Legislature.

The recommended salary amount incorporates the County's support of the concept of a living wage, currently calculated by Alternatives Federal Credit Union, at $13.77 per hour for someone whose job includes health benefits.  It was noted that the Legislature's current practice recognizes that work of a  legislator requires, on average, 30 hours a week, and that remuneration should enable a legislator to hold an additional job, with the aim of enabling a greater diversity of representation on the Legislature.

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