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Highlights of the February 20, 2024 meeting of the Tompkins County Legislature

Resolution Passes Regarding Departments to be Located in Future Center of Government Building and Other Downtown Facilities

A resolution passed 13-0 (Legislator Mike Sigler (R-Lansing) excused) to designate placement of County departments in downtown facilities as Center of Government plans move forward. Legislator Mike Lane (D-Dryden) reminded the Legislature that while this is a current outline of what is preferred, it may change in the future as the organization changes.

The resolution designates the following:

  • The Daniel D. Tompkins Building will be renovated to include Legislator Offices, Staff Offices, and a community meeting room.

  • The Old Jail building will be renovated to include the Department of Planning and Sustainability, the Ithaca Tompkins County Transportation Council, and Assigned Counsel.

  • A Center of Government building of approximately 55,000 gross square feet will be designed to include Assessment, Board of Elections and election machine storage, County Administration, County Attorney, County Clerk, District Attorney, Finance, Human Resources, Information Technology Services, Office for the Aging, Office of Human Rights, Veterans Services and Workforce Development/Department of Labor.

A request for qualifications for the preparation of schematic and design documents for the Center of Government building will proceed following the passage of the resolution. The County will also arrange for the sale of the Human Services Annex building to take place after the Center of Government building is constructed and departments have moved in.

Legislators discussed the process moving forward, including how best to ensure the accessibility of County services located inside a new downtown building. Legislator Shawna Black (D-Ithaca) expressed concerns around parking, that it’s important for downtown County building users to be able to park in close proximity to it. Legislator Veronica Pillar (D-Ithaca) responded to the conversation around parking needs, “…parking has to be a part of that solution, it cannot be the only solution… I would encourage us, instead of thinking about parking, think about accessibility and people’s ability to get to the building from wherever.” There was additional debate on the topic as well as acknowledgement that many decisions are yet to be made as more information becomes available.

Among Other Business

Legislator Rich John (D-Ithaca), who chairs the Industrial Development Agency (IDA) shared a report on the authority and its work to support development in the County. The report was invited by Chair Dan Klein (D-Danby) as part of an initiative to increase reporting to the Legislature by outside agencies receiving County funds. John indicated, using draft data made available by IDA staff, that payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT payments) to local government entities from developers who receive tax abatements total around $4.3 million. John reported that the abated taxes totaled $5.6 million. John reminded Legislators that after an abatement is granted there is typically a 7–10-year time frame where payments increase before totaling the full amount based on the property assessment and tax rate. There are approximately 47 local abatements across several industries and project types, John reported that those projects have created or retained over 2,000 jobs. John stated, “The idea is to provide enough incentive so the project can work financially. … the abatement only applies to new money, or new development.” John added that the IDA’s policies can be found online, inviting Legislators and the public to view those policies if they have process-related questions. The IDA is audited annually. John reflected on the community’s “readiness for growth,” stating “we have seen that happen here, it’s pretty remarkable what’s happened in our downtown core,” adding that many factors are required to be prepared for the type of growth that Tompkins County has experienced, particularly in downtown Ithaca.  John’s closing message was “we shouldn’t take our IDA for granted. There’s lots of reasons we can be critical of giving tax abatements and we should be. This IDA is pretty conservative compared to other ones in New York State, but it has made a real difference if we want to build density rather than sprawl, and to build our tax base.  We’ve added over a billion dollars in tax base in the last ten years and over 700,000 square feet of new construction.”

A resolution passed 13-0 (Legislator Mike Sigler (R-Lansing) excused) establishing a Capital Program for the development of a community shelter in Ithaca. The resolution amended the County’s 2024 plans to include a project budget for $1 million funded by the County’s Capital Reserve.

The Legislature passed a resolution 13-0 (Legislator Mike Sigler (R-Lansing) excused) adjusting wages for several employee titles to support the living wage in Tompkins County following the most recent calculation by the Alternatives Federal Credit Union. The 2023 study determined that the living wage for Tompkins County was $18.45/hr. Legislator Deborah Dawson (D-Lansing) spoke about wealth inequality in Tompkins County, adding that she would suggest that a County-wide minimum wage be investigated by the Legislature if it continues to be a topic of interest.