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tc_court120hCulminating two-and-a-half months of budget deliberations and more than two hours deliberation tonight on proposed budget amendments, the Tompkins County Legislature, without dissent, adopted the County’s 2013 budget and its capital program for the next five years.  Approval came by a 14-0 vote, with Legislator Kathy Luz Herrera excused.  And after approving a series of amendments that would have boosted the levy increase slightly, Legislators approved taking $65,000 from the County’s fund balance to meet the New York State property tax cap—adjusted for the County at 3.69%

The adopted budget is increases the County tax levy by 3.69% and the countywide average tax rate by 12 cents (1.87%) to $6.79 per thousand, an increase of $19.95 for the average $160,000 home.  County property taxes on that average home stand at $1,087.15.

Before adoption, Legislators made the following amendments to the budget:

  • Legislators, by a vote of 8-6, removed from the budget $25,567 that would have partially supported a Sustainability Planner position, since  the City of Ithaca did not include partial funding for the position in the 2013 City budget.  A proposal to redirect the money to increased Planning Department staff hours to perform sustainability work failed by a 6-8 vote; proposals to allocate $23,000 and $15,000 toward restoration of Planning hours also failed.
  • $30,000 was added to support Youth Services, priorities to be determined by the Youth Services Department, approved by a vote of 10-4.  (A proposed to restore $39,700 failed by a tie vote of 7-7; a proposal to restore $9,700 for the Municipal Youth Services System, failed to win support by a 3-11 margin.)
  • By a vote of 8-6, $15,000 in one-time funding was approved for the Soil and Water Conservation District to support staff expense related to Hydrilla eradication, reduced from $40,000 that had initially been requested.
  • A half-time Cleaner position was added to the Facilities budget for a cost of $25,000, approved by a vote of 11-3; an initial proposal for a full-time cleaner for $41,778 failed by a 6-8 vote.

A proposal to change the way funds were allocated to begin to address a structural funding deficit for Tompkins County Area Development was considered, but failed to win support.  The proposal to change $170,000 in one-time funding to $70,000 in target funding and $100,000 one-time failed by a vote of 4-10.

The amendment to use $65,000 in reserves to meet the cap, moved by Budget Chair Jim Dennis, was criticized by some as not the right way to use reserve money to meet what they consider an artificial cap.  But others countered that, with excess fund balance at 10%, this use is a good message to send to taxpayers—Legislator Brian Robison noted that the Legislature must remember all County resources, including reserves, are the people’s money.  Legislator Nate Shinagawa stated that use of a small amount of reserves is proper, and said he believes the Legislature gains credibility when there are some years when it can make the cap and some where it can’t.  A proposal to take another $80,000 in fund balance to meet the Legislature’s original 3.5% levy target failed by a 3-11 margin.

After the adoption vote, Budget Chair Dennis thanked Administration, department heads, and his legislative colleagues for their hard work and many contributions throughout the budget process.  He said the budget continues essential services, while filling gaps identified by the County Administrator, and investing in technology and training.  Administrator Joe Mareane reflected that the budget process actually began in late 2008 when the nation’s economy fell apart, and he credited the Legislature for taking a balanced approach and making decisions throughout the period that have helped the County navigate through this difficult time.  “I pay tribute to what you and this organization have accomplished over four of the most difficult years imaginable,” he said.

In a separate budget-related action, the Legislature, by unanimous vote, also set the 2013 Solid Waste Annual Fee, which holds the fee steady at its current rate of $56.00 per billing unit.

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