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Legislature Adopts 2016 Tompkins County Budget

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Legislature Adopts 2016 Tompkins County Budget

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Tompkins County Legislature, after two-and-a-half months of deliberation and review, tonight adopted the County’s 2016 budget and the capital program for the next five years. The budget was approved by a 13-1 vote, with Legislator Dooley Kiefer voting no.

Before adoption, Legislators approved one amendment to the budget, changing the additional $50,000 allocated to Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit (TCAT) from target to one-time funding, which supporters noted was consistent with the type of funding committed by TCAT’s other two funding partners, the City of Ithaca and Cornell University, a change that reduced the tax levy increase to just over 1%.

The $171 million budget, with $84.9 million in local dollar spending, increases the County tax levy by 1.01%, an increase that is below the County’s 1.8% State property tax cap. The tax rate of $6.73 per thousand is down by 1.88% from 2015, representing an increase of $12.39 in the tax bill for the median-valued county home, currently valued at $170,000, compared to $165,000 last year. The County Solid Waste Fee, after decreasing by $4.00 for 2015, will increase by $3.00, to $55.00 per household.

The change in the source of the additional TCAT funding was approved by a margin of 8-6, with Legislators Dooley Kiefer, Carol Chock, Will Burbank, Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, Anna Kelles, and Dan Klein voting no. Budget Chair Jim Dennis proposed the amendment, saying that being consistent with the approach used by the City and Cornell will facilitate a larger funding discussion among the partners next summer, outside the budget process. While the partners are required to commit an equal amount of funding, Legislators Chock, Burbank, and Kiefer, however, all maintained that parity relates only to the amount, not the type of funding, and that including the additional funding as ongoing in the budget would provide an important message regarding TCAT’s importance to the County.

Legislator Kiefer also advanced another proposed amendment, which failed to win support, which would have provided an additional staff member at the Department of Weights and Measures as of mid-year—as first proposed, more than $32,000 for salary and fringe, and $22,000 in one-time funds for a vehicle and computer. Kiefer said it is clear the sole Weights and Measures director has inadequate resources. While Budget Chair Dennis and Legislature Chair Michael Lane said they would support taking a look at Weights and Measures as part of discussions on the 2017 budget, they did not support taking the action at this time. Kiefer’s proposed amendment failed by a 4-10 vote (Legislators Kiefer, Burbank, Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, and Anna Kelles voting in favor). An alternate proposal from Legislator Chock, to reduce the position to half-time, also failed by a vote of 4-10 (Legislators Chock, Kiefer, Burbank, and McBean-Clairborne voting in favor).

Reflecting on the budget process and outcomes over the past five years, Budget Chair Dennis said that the County has stayed within the tax cap for three out of those five years, has weathered the recession of 2008 and 2009, and reduced its workforce by about 9% while maintaining services at a fairly high level. “I think we have done a really fine job over the past five years doing what we’re doing,” he said. Legislature Chair Lane and County Administrator Joe Mareane both thanked all who have been involved in the budget process. Administrator Mareane recognized department heads, agency directors, and his staff for all their work, and Legislators for “the patience and civility you’ve shown throughout this process.

The summary of the final amendments and the adopted budget will be posted on the budget page of the County website at