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Legislators Review More Budget Requests

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Legislators Review More Budget Requests

Monday, September 21, 2015

Legislators acting as an Expanded Budget Committee entered their second week of deliberations tonight on County Administrator Joe Mareane’s recommended 2016 County budget, with presentations from six more County departments and agencies.

Presenting tonight were the Departments of Assessment and Social Services and the Legislature Office, along with the Human Services Coalition and OAR (Opportunities, Alternatives, and Resources).  Officials from the City of Ithaca also presented the City’s request for funding toward management and maintenance of the City’s waterfront parks.

The City of Ithaca requests a $30,000 annual contribution for operation, maintenance, and programming at the waterfront Stewart and Cass Parks, not recommended as part of the Administrator’s budget.  Noting that those facilities benefit and are heavily used by residents throughout the county and that the City Youth Bureau is program provider for the county Recreation Partnership, officials in a briefing memo call the $30,000 “a new beginning to a cost sharing solution for our local waterfront parks and recreation facilities” and predict that “the County’s support will help keep our parks strong and viable for all residents.”  They also note that the Town of Ithaca has reduced significantly its contribution to the parks, with the risk of further reduction if additional governmental support is not found.

Legislators asked Suki Taber of the Youth Bureau, who presented for the City, for additional information regarding what the City is spending overall for those parks and inquired where County  funding would go if approved.  Legislature Chair Mike remarked that this is not the first request for support that the County has received in view of reductions by the Town of Ithaca, something he called “very troubling.” In response to a legislator’s question, Administrator Mareane advised that, should funding support be recommended by the committee, that it be targeted toward a specific use related to the parks.

Among other highlights from tonight’s presentations:

For Assessment, as part of what Director Jay Franklin characterizes as a maintenance of effort budget, the Administrator has recommended about $24,000 in over-target spending for a third administrative assistant, while eliminating a seasonal project assistant, to provide year-round office support.  Not recommended as part of the budget is $60,000 in ongoing annual spending for a computer-assisted mass appraisal software system to replace the antiquated New York State system.  Franklin said, while the State has said it’s “committed” to a new database, the timetable for the upgrade is uncertain and could be as long as seven years away.  Administrator Mareane said he couldn’t justify the request as part of his budget since it is a State responsibility; that the County should talk to the State about that and not step in to fill that need.

For the Human Services Coalition Agencies, the Recommended Budget includes a $5,000 over-target Maintenance of Effort request for the Food Distribution Network, but does not recommend $4,000 for a new initiative for that agency focused on seasonally grown produce.  $10,500 in one-time funding is recommended to continue Catholic Charities’ service navigator position.  For Human Services Coalition operations, the Administrator did not recommend a little over $4,000 above target to boost staff salaries by an additional 1%, beyond the 2% already provided in the budget.  Coalition Director Kathy Schlather said that, for agencies, there’s a need for more intensive case management to help clients navigate through the system; safe and affordable housing continues to be needed.  She observed that both agencies and the Coalition are feeling the effects of the State’s increasing regionalization of funding—the loss of funding for local programs and the increased meeting and travel time for Coalition staff associated with regionalization. 

Both Schlather and OAR Director Deb Dietrich said their agencies are experiencing increased complexity of needs by clients.  Dietrich noted the jail population has been high for much of this year, and when seven additional bends are available at the jail, it will increase OAR’s work level, but that the workload can be handled with existing staff.  She thanked the County for restoring OAR’s third client service worker in the 2015 budget.

Clerk of the Legislature Cathy Covert reported that, as part of the 2016 budget, the Legislature will implement software program to manage appointments to the County’s more than 40 advisory boards.  Through the Legislature’s Meeting Portal, the public, in part, will be able to access information on advisory boards and apply online for membership.

Commissioner of Social Services Patricia Carey noted her department’s $47 million budget will decrease by about 5% in 2016, with a reduction of five staff positions by attrition due to reorganization.  Public Assistance caseloads are declining, with the caps of some funding streams raised.  In response to questions, Commissioner Carey said her department has been able in some cases to shift some Temporary Assistance clients to programs such as SSI; has been aggressively looking to employment programs to find opportunities for individuals; and is seeing some fluctuation and increase in foster care numbers, which she attributes to the drug situation, a trend being experienced by counties across the state.

The Expanded Budget Committee has recessed until Thursday, September 24.  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 2016 Recommended Budget, and other information related to the budget process,is posted on the budget page of the County web site at www.tompkinscountyny.gov/ctyadmin/2016budget.