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Criminal Justice Programs Part of Focus at Latest Budget Review Session

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Criminal Justice Programs Part of Focus at Latest Budget Review Session

Friday, October 1, 2010
As they continued review of the County's 2011 tentative budget Thursday, Legislators acting as an Expanded Budget Committee examined several more requests, most seeking restoration of program reductions needed to meet the County's fiscal targets.

Director Patricia Buechel submitted the largest single over target request reviewed to date: more than $200,000 to preserve the Day Reporting Program at its current, full-day status. In the tentative budget, County Administrator Joe Mareane recommends over target spending of more than $100,000 to support a half-day program. Director Buechel said it was not an easy decision to put the program forward, but that the only alternative to meet the County's mandated spending reduction would have been to cut staff equivalent to three probation officers, which would have increased case loads to "unmanageable" levels. Buechel predicted that failing to restore the program will result in a higher jail population and increased board-out costs. She expects a half-day program would focus on GED and job training services, that many other valuable educational services would be lost, and that a half-time program, with less structure, would probably not be as attractive to judges as a sentencing option.

The County Administrator recommended more than $30,000 in over target spending to restore core probation services, formerly supported by state aid, and preventing a reduction in probation officer services. The director also cautioned that over target requests in other parts of the budget, such as Social Services and rural at-risk youth programs, will affect her department, if not granted.

Sheriff Peter Meskill has requested more than $150,000 in over target spending to restore two deputy positions, recommended by the administrator as a core element of public safety, and more than $60,000 to restore a civil/records clerk position, currently vacant, which is not recommended. Meskill proposes funding the clerk as a one-time expense next year (instead of as target as he had requested in the budget), using anticipated revenue to tide the department over until the County's new computerized records management system is fully implemented. The administrator has recommended $7,000 for equipment--'only that which can be funded through department rollover, about half of what was requested. The Sheriff urged legislators to approve over target spending for vehicles--'the Sheriff requested $112,000 to replace four marked patrol units, the administrator recommends funding for three. With the vehicles' heavy use, Sheriff Meskill cautioned failure to approve will mean double that number of vehicles will need to be replaced in 2012, with a dramatic increase in the cost of major repairs. "If you give me what the County Administrator recommends, we'll make do," said Sheriff Meskill, but he indicated the constant annual reductions of 15-20% are taking their toll and that further reductions in 2012 will result in reductions in staff and patrol services. For the jail, the Sheriff noted the budget has not changed, other than benefit expense, with transport expenses down because of the current jail variances.

Weights and Measures submitted about $4,100 in over target requests, with most expense offset by rollover, to support expenses such as fuel, maintenance, required travel, telephone, and software--'expenses not recommended by the County Administrator, who called for the department spending target to be met by a reduction in the director's hours. Director Don Ellis noted that, with cuts made since 2003, his one-person department is down to "bare bones" and that there are a number of functions he cannot perform, because there is no time to do them.

Human Rights Director Shawn Martel Moore requested $19,810 to cover above-target fringe expense for her department's small staff; the administrator recommended all but $300 of that as part of the tentative budget, citing the need to continue core services. Not recommended: $587 to maintain a paralegal aid at half-time and $5,288 to support legal intern services.

County Administrator Joe Mareane summarized the recommended $5.3 million Capital Budget, made up of cash and debt service components. The capital budget is down more than $350,000 from the current year. On the cash side, the proposed capital budget allocates $100,000 for planning and design as the first step of the proposed $2.4 million, three year building restoration project (first debt service payment would occur in 2012), $100,000 for upgrade to the Bostwick Road fuel facility, nearly $250,000 for the local share of federally-funded highway projects, nearly $40,000 for aquifer studies, and nearly $30,000 for TCAT transit capital expense.

County Administration, which submitted no over target requests, has made a 6% reduction in its overall budget, eliminating a program analyst position as part of its reorganization and shrinking its roster to 5.5 positions, which administrator Joe Mareane noted represents a significant reduction of two positions since 2004. Revenue through county room tax has decreased by $20,000, with the shift of tourism planning and support to the Planning Department and County Attorney.

The Expanded Budget Committee has recessed until next Thursday, October 7.