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Highlights of the October 18, 2022 meeting of the Tompkins County Legislature

County Legislator Henry Granison Resigns Effective October 31; Special Election to be Held in District Three

Legislator Henry Granison (D-Ithaca) stated, “Today I am announcing my resignation from the Legislature, effective October 31. As some of you know, I am going through intensive treatment for cancer and my treatment requires my full attention. It has been an honor serving on this Legislature.  You are all smart, caring, and dedicated. I am proud of the work that we’ve done, and of my participation in many of the important issues that we’ve faced. I have been glad to work on issues around poverty, affordable housing, the environment, and supporting union members. The constituents in District Three are smart and thoughtful; I love learning from them and serving them.  While my cancer treatment prevents me from completing my term, I am grateful that the good work will continue, both because of my colleagues and my constituents.”

All Legislators stood to recognize Granison for his time on the Legislature, Chairwoman Shawna Black (D-Ithaca) stated “We’re thinking of you, our prayers go to you and your family, and we wish you the best that there is.”

Legislator Anne Koreman (D-Ulysses) stated, “It has been an honor serving with you, Henry. You should be very proud of your service. Henry has put a lot of time and effort into working with his constituents… it has been a priority for him to do the best for his constituents.”

Legislature Rejects Motion to Suspend Local Sales Tax on Heating Fuels and Electricity

Legislator Mike Sigler (R-Lansing) moved a resolution to suspend 4% local sales tax on heating oil, natural gas, propane, wood products, and electricity. Legislator Rich John (D-Ithaca) stated that he worries about this resolution as it would have a nearly $2 million impact on the County’s revenue, to which Sigler responded that “for me this isn’t a question of people struggling this winter… this is a fundamental question of do you tax things that people need to live,” adding that “I would like to see us as a County change course.” John also shared that “there would be no means testing here,” and reminded Legislators of the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) available through New York State for those struggling with their heating bills. More information on the HEAP program can be found at: https://tompkinscountyny.gov/dss/heap.

Legislator Amanda Champion (D-Ithaca) shared that she agrees with Legislator Sigler, but added a question that “why didn’t this pass the budget committee,” and sharing that she needs more information on the details of how this would work. Legislator Sigler responded that the implication for not taxing the items (other than propane and electricity) would be around $2.4 million. Legislator Greg Mezey (D-Dryden) reported that this resolution did not get a second at the Budget, Capital, and Personnel Committee, adding that he would like to see a resolution with more substance brought forth on this issue. Legislator Deborah Dawson (D-Lansing) stated, “I wish that we would accept the fact that this burdensome economy is as burdensome to us to provide services as it is to our taxpayers.” Legislator Veronica Pillar (D-Ithaca) shared that she was glad this was brought forth but that there isn’t enough “meat and math” on this resolution. Pillar shared that philosophically she agrees that moving away from regressive taxes is worth considering, adding that means testing “tends to come out discriminatory,” and offered to work with Legislator Sigler on other approaches in the future. Legislator Lee Shurtleff (R-Groton) opined that much of the property tax relief included in the County’s 2023 budget would “go out the window” if this were to pass without more consideration.

The resolution failed 1-12 (Legislator Sigler (R-Lansing) in favor and Legislator Henry Granison (D-Ithaca) excused). The action would have also been subject to approval by New York State and would not likely have gone into effect before the next tax quarter.

Among Other Business

Deputy Finance Director Drew Braman reported on hotel room tax receipts, which are up almost 50% year over year.

An amended resolution to provide security funding for the Human Services Building passed unanimously 13-0 (Legislator Henry Granison (D-Ithaca) excused). This resolution shifts the approach from providing security with Sheriff’s Deputies to providing it through a private security option. The resolution cites restrictions under the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office’s current labor contract and staffing constraints that make it prohibitive for the Office to provide staffing for security.

Legislator Dan Klein (D-Danby) who chairs the Community Recovery Fund Committee shared that to date there have been around 100 applications submitted, and of the 154 inquiries around half have been from not for profits, with smaller percentages being from small businesses, local governments, educational institutions, and healthcare providers. A resolution passed 12-1 (Legislator Mike Sigler (R-Lansing) opposed, Legislator Henry Granison (D-Ithaca) excused) to add $196,000 in funding from the contingent fund for the consultant fees to manage the program (fees committed to the management of the process now total around $265,000). Legislator Klein remarked, “this is because of us. We originally contracted them for a very low number of applications… there’s a lot of interest in this program.” Legislator Greg Mezey (D-Dryden) added that this cost is still under the cost of what other consultant firms had proposed. Legislator Rich John (D-Ithaca) considered this “money well spent” in the interest of ensuring a well-managed process with effective oversight and application assistance.

A resolution to refund Tompkins County's portion of Mortgage Recording Tax to the Downtown Ithaca Conference Center project passed 9-4 (Legislators Dan Klein (D-Danby), Veronica Pillar (D-Ithaca), Shawna Black (D-Ithaca) and Randy Brown (R-Newfield) opposed, Legislator Henry Granison (D-Ithaca) excused). Legislator Deborah Dawson (D-Lansing) explained the need for this resolution, that the Conference Center project’s developer did not fully understand the breadth of tax abatements offered and didn’t anticipate the County’s portion of the Mortgage Recording Tax, and that this resolution is for the County to join the City of Ithaca in supporting covering those costs. The resolution was regarding $18,551. Legislator Rich John (D-Ithaca) who chairs the Industrial Development Agency spoke about the increased costs of construction for the project and the necessity of this support.

Legislator Deborah Dawson (D-Ithaca) spoke against the proposed amendments to the 2023 Tompkins County Budget and Capital Program, sharing her opinion that it is irresponsible to settle the operating deficit “with use of $6.5 million in fund balance,” with looming global economic crises that could potentially impact the community. Legislator Dan Klein (D-Danby) responded, “if we are wrong, and made assumptions that turned out to be bad judgement, we can correct it next year by cutting expenses or finding new revenues.” Legislator Mike Lane (D-Dryden) shared his dissatisfaction with adding to the solid waste fee and the $400,000 added at the very end to zero out the tax levy increase but shared that this is the Legislature’s process and therefore the Legislature’s budget, approved by a majority of the Legislature. Legislator Randy Brown (R-Newfield) commended Tompkins County Administrator Lisa Holmes and her staff for their efforts and remarked that this budget adds several new people to the County’s roster, which is a major driver of increased costs. Brown added, in support of the budget, that the over target requests passed represent the Legislature listening to constituents. The resolution containing the proposed amendments passed 12-1 (Legislator Deborah Dawson (D-Lansing opposed, Legislator Henry Granison (D-Ithaca) excused) and states that the tentative budget will be presented at a 5:30pm November 7 public hearing and an ultimate vote at the November 15 meeting of the Legislature. For more information on recent amendments made to the budget, visit: https://tompkinscountyny.gov/news/highlights-october-11-and-13-2022-expanded-budget-committee-meeting-tompkins-county.

A resolution authorizing a November 1 public hearing on the County Charter allowing for the merger of the Tompkins County Health Department and Mental Health Department passed unanimously, 13-0 (Legislator Henry Granison (D-Ithaca) excused).

Legislator Mike Lane (D-Dryden) shared that the Facilities and Infrastructure committee will meet early this Thursday (October 20) to discuss the future of the “Red Building” on Tioga Street which is owned by the County but is currently vacant.