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Focus on Public Safety and Human Services, in Fourth Night of County Budget Review

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Focus on Public Safety and Human Services, in Fourth Night of County Budget Review

Thursday, September 25, 2014

As they continue review of County Administrator Joe Mareane’s recommended 2015 County budget, Legislators acting as an Expanded Budget Committee heard budget presentations from seven more County departments and agencies.

Presenting tonight were the District Attorney; Sheriff’s Office; and Health Department; as well as the Human Services Coalition (including community agencies); Opportunities, Alternatives, and Resources (OAR); and Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Tonight’s presentation highlights:

Of two over-target requests not recommended by the Administrator, District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson said her request for more than $127,000 to support an additional Assistant District Attorney (not recommended as part of the budget) is based on need—in part from a significant increase in prosecutorial resources from an expansion to two full-time judges in City Court, the desirability of D.A. personnel to cover all initial arraignments, as now required for defense counsel, and anticipated changes from pending legislation that would increase the prosecution discovery obligation in every criminal case.  The D.A. cautioned that, in view of increasing demands and years of doing more with less, the time will come in the near future when her office, without additional funding, will be unable to maintain the level of service to which the County is accustomed.

As part of the Sheriff’s budget, for the jail, the County Administrator has reduced the allocation for jail board-outs by $58,000 (a projected decrease from 8 to 6 board-outs per day)—reflecting decreases in jail population related to factors such as the new counsel-at-first-appearance requirement, and the expected effects from the addition of 7 jail beds after the jail reconfiguration is completed at mid-year.  Funding from that adjustment supports an over-target request of $50,623 advanced by OAR to hire an additional Client Service Worker to assist with the low-bail program and provide additional case management services, as recommended by the Jail Alternatives Task Force.  OAR Director Deborah Dietrich noted that there is a need for an additional caseworker, even with some decline in jail numbers, since there is the need for more complex case management to prevent people from returning to the jail over and over again.

For Human Services Coalition community agencies, the budget recommends four agency requests (The Advocacy Center, Southside Community Center, Lifelong, and Tompkins Learning Partners), and a reduced level of increase to ease staff transition at the Multicultural Resources Center.  Not recommended were $7,500 to add a part-time position for Catholic Charities’ Samaritan Center; $4,813 to begin phase-in toward meeting the living wage for staff at the Downtown Ithaca Children’s Center; and a $5,000 increase for the Food Distribution Network (supporting food pantries and meal sites).  Director Kathy Schlather noted that, in part, agencies are coping with shrinking resources, as demand for services rises, with the lack of safe, affordable housing options a continuing challenge.

For the Human Services Coalition itself, the budget recommends $5,000 in over-target funding toward a staff position to coordinate homeless services and partially funds, at $10,000, a request to maintain current staffing levels.  Director Schlather noted, in part, that funding does not cover the true cost of doing business, State reporting requirements are becoming more involved and taking more staff time, and that the Affordable Care Act has increased the Coalition’s workload.

Public Health Director Frank Kruppa reported that his department was able to maintain a flat budget request for 2015, while much internal analysis and adjustment is in process.  He said the department has benefited from a change in the way it pays for Early Intervention services, with private insurance and Medicaid now billed first, then the Department paying its and the State’s portion, then being reimbursed.  The department is evaluating its electronic health records system, including approaches  that may enable a coordinated system with the Mental Health Department.

For Cooperative Extension, two over-target requests for one-time funding were recommended in the budget--$40,000 to help fund a staff position for a career readiness program targeted at all county youth and $20,000 to support continued development of an association staff productivity website, which was supported in last year’s budget process.  Director Ken Schlather said that system has already improved new staff orientation and training and has saved half a position for human resources compliance and bookkeeping.

The Expanded Budget Committee will next meet Tuesday, September 30.  All Expanded Budget sessions begin at 5:30 p.m., and are held at Legislature Chambers in the Governor Daniel D. Tompkins Building, 121 E. Court Street (Second Floor).

The Recommended Budget, with total expenditures of $180 million and local dollar spending of $83.3 million, would increase the tax levy by 2.34% (below the County’s projected property tax cap) and would increase the tax bill by $6.34 for the owner of a median-value $165,000 home—an amount of increase that would be returned by the State under the new State property tax freeze law.

The 2015 Recommended Budget, along with other budget-related information, is posted on the web site's budget page.