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Legislators Conduct Second Budget Review Session

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Legislators Conduct Second Budget Review Session

Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Legislators, acting as an Expanded Budget Committee, tonight heard five program presentations in a second night of 2011 County Budget review. The County Administrator's tentative budget recommends $74.4 million in local dollar spending, which holds spending nearly steady from 2010 in spite of substantial mandated increases, and uses spending reductions and revenue increases to close a $4.7 million budget gap and meet the Legislature's 5% tax levy increase goal.

Administrator Joe Mareane has recommended over-target capital funding for TCAT of just under $30,000 to support a five-year capital project for bus replacement and other capital expense. The system proposes a flat operating budget of just under $830,000. Legislature Chair Martha Robertson asked TCAT director Joe Turcotte to come back with information on what the impact would be of a 5% cut (or about $40,000) in the base operating budget, expressing concern that the TCAT budget would remain flat when other County departments and funded agencies were required to reduce expenses by nearly 7%. Turcotte noted that the system has already tapped its fund balance by $750,000 to keep the budget flat, and reminded Legislators that because of the partner funding formula, the impact of such a reduction would be tripled since Cornell and the City of Ithaca support would also be reduced by 5%.

Thanking the County for its ongoing support and saying that the Library appreciates the extremely difficult fiscal challenges the County is facing, Library Director Susan Currie said the Library has respectfully requested nearly $70,000 in over-target funding to preserve maintenance of effort funding, required by State education law, as the Central Library for the Finger Lakes Library System. The County Administrator recommends that request as part of the Tentative Budget. Failure to meet that level of funding would trigger a 25% reduction of central library aid and even with that funding, the Library's county funding would decrease by 4% from 2010.

The County's five rural libraries and the Finger Lakes Library System urged restoration of more than $11,000 in funding, reduced to meet the County's 6.9% spending reduction, an over-target request not recommended by the County Administrator. The libraries predict the reduction will mean reduced library hours, since there is nowhere else to cut, forcing an ill-advised reduction at a time when citizens have increased need for library services in tough economic times.

Restoration of nearly $60,000 in multi-year funding is requested by the Office of Employment and Training to maintain staffing at a time when service demand has increased dramatically, the office experiencing a 42% increase in customers over the past seven months. The County Administrator has recommended the over target request as one-time funding. Department leaders report both the Office of Employment and Training and Workforce Investment Board are coping with the effects of a sharp increase in the unemployment rate, extended unemployment, a scarcity of jobs, and decreased federal funding. Workforce Investment director Julia Mattick notes that, with an ever-increasing unemployment rate and tough economic hardships, for job connections and job creation must be her department's top priority.

Planning Commissioner Ed Marx told Legislators the Planning Department budget has been reduced by more than $55,000 to meet the County's 6.9% reduction. Of over-target requests, the County Administrator has recommended five of eight requests submitted--'for purposes including supplemental funding for a grant-funded gas drilling planner, renewal of stream protection funding, funds focused toward energy strategy, to maintain the Capital Reserve Fund for Resource Protection, and to update the Unique Natural Resources Inventory--'all funded through department rollover with no impact on the tax levy. Funding to preserve planning assistance to municipalities is also recommended, though the County would charge municipalities full cost of the service, instead of the current 50%. Nearly $47,000 in additional over-requests--'for development program review, planning information related to demographic data, and land policy work related to the foreclosure process--'which are not of as high priority for the department and with tax levy impact, were not recommended.

Commissioner Marx said his department submitted the full range of requests, in part, to give Legislators an idea of impact of the directed reduction. He said his department, through shared hours reductions, will reduce total staffing by a little over half a position.

The Expanded Budget Committee continues its review with six more presentations on Monday, September 22, beginning at 5:00 p.m., at Legislature Chambers of the County Courthouse, 320 N. Tioga Street, Ithaca.