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Support Voiced for Human Rights at Budget Public Hearing

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Support Voiced for Human Rights at Budget Public Hearing

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Tompkins County Legislature tonight invited comment on the County’s 2018 Tentative Budget and the Capital Program for the next five years. The Tentative Budget is County Administrator Joe Mareane’s Recommended Budget, as amended by the Legislature. The hearing is the formal opportunity as part of the budget process to register comments with the Legislature.

More than 50 people attended and 12 of them spoke during tonight’s 45-minute hearing, nearly all of them speaking about something that had not been a major issue as part of the budget process—voicing strong support of the Office of Human Rights and its director, Karen Baer, who has been on a leave of absence since October 13.

Speakers delivered impassioned statements in support of the office and its meaningful expertise and work to advance the critical issue of human rights. Several noted that is especially important in this community at this time to combat persistent structural racism, and when many who are in need are essentially driven out of this community by escalating prices for housing, which they cannot afford. Director Baer was one of those addressing the hearing, maintaining that her story is an example of what she called “the never-ending racism in America.” Ms. Baer urged others to not stay silent and to sustain grassroots support for human rights.

Anticipating that the County’s commitment to the Office of Human Rights would be an issue, budget committee chair Jim Dennis at the beginning of the hearing noted that, as part of the 2018 budget process, the office received the funds it had requested; that the Office will be fully funded and fully staffed; and that Tompkins County will continue to be the most generous county in the state with respect to funding a Human Rights Office, demonstrating the value the County continues to place on the office and mission of human rights..

Tali Mugambe, speaking on behalf of the URO program (Ultimate Reentry Opportunity) told legislators his organization is in general agreement with the budget’s recommendations regarding reentry programs—including hiring of an additional Assistant District Attorney, which he said will result in greater sentencing flexibility. He urged that an approach of equity and inclusion be used in the hiring of a Criminal Justice Coordinator, as part of a fully transparent process, and that hiring of a new Senior Probation Officer be part of the shift to a harm reduction philosophy on the part of Probation.

The amended budget would increase the County tax levy 2.32%. The recommended tax rate of $6.57 per thousand is down by 5 cents (0.76%) from 2017 and is a penny less than the Administrator’s budget, representing an increase of $11.14 in the tax bill for the median-valued $178,000 home. The amended budget’s recommended levy increase of 2.32% compares to a 2.4% increase contained in the County Administrator’s budget, and is below Tompkins County’s State-calculated 2018 Tax Cap of 3.53%.

The Legislature can further amend the budget before final passage. The adoption vote is scheduled at the Legislature’s next meeting on Thursday, November 9, which begins at 5:30 p.m. at Legislature Chambers, located at the Governor Daniel D. Tompkins Building (second floor), 121 E. Court Street, Ithaca.

The Recommended Budget, all amendments to the Recommended Budget, and other information regarding the 2018 budget process, are available for review online at the County website at www.TompkinsCountyNY.gov/ctyadmin/2018budget