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Highlights of the September 6, 2022 meeting of the Tompkins County Legislature

Highlights of the September 6, 2022 meeting of the

Tompkins County Legislature

Legislature Hears 2023 Recommended Budget Presentation

Tompkins County Administrator Lisa Holmes presented her recommended 2023 County Budget and Capital Budget to the Legislature. The recommended 2023 Tompkins County Budget totals $207.7 million, the Capital Budget totals $121.5 million. Holmes is recommending a 1.46% tax levy increase, which will result in an $83 reduction in County property taxes for the owner of a median-priced home in Tompkins County ($225,000 is the 2022 calculated median priced home in Tompkins County). The increased tax levy would result in decreased property tax bills for some households because property values in Tompkins County have been assessed as more valuable in recent assessments (up from $205,000 in 2021).

Holmes’ presentation included a detailed overview of the economic and fiscal factors impacting this year’s recommended budget. “It is still the case that Tompkins County’s unemployment rate is lower than surrounding counties and New York State, there continues to be a demand for workers across industries and job titles – our unemployment rate is even lower than it was in 2021.” Holmes contrasted unemployment rates with inflation, “prices have continued to increase... the effects of inflation hurts individuals on fixed incomes the most…” Holmes continued speaking on the topic of inflation and its impact on the County, detailing how supply chain disruptions and increased costs impact the County’s capital budgets with cost increases including fuel, electricity, and vehicles, all local “costs of doing business” for the County. On the topic of inflation, Holmes warned, “Prolonged periods of inflation can increase needs for County services.”

Local indicators of need have shown a steady increase over the past few years, reflecting pandemic impacts on families and individuals. Local indicators include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and Safety Net Assistance. While recently increasing, these local indicators shown a sustained decrease over the past ten years.

Major drivers reported as impacting the recommended budget include;

  • Sales tax revenues, which have grown on average 2.9% annually over the past decade, sales tax revenue is estimated at $40.58 million for 2023, a 1.7% increase over actual sales tax received in 2021,
  • Casino revenues are estimated to be $2.1 million in 2023, which is slightly lower than the $2.3 million the County is on pace to receive in 2022,
  • Labor costs continue to increase for the County, with three labor agreements in place for 2023 and ongoing negotiations with the corrections unit at the Tompkins County Jail,
  • The Ithaca Tompkins International Airport has seen decreased passenger traffic due to the pandemic’s impacts on the travel industry and its slow recovery, passenger traffic is a significant source of revenue for the local airport. 2021 passenger traffic was at 50% of 2019 pre-pandemic levels. The recommended budget includes a three-year plan to assist the Airport’s recovery, with $1.3 million in 2023. The budget also includes $342,481 to pay half of the debt service on the recent terminal project, a cost expected to recur for the next 3-5 years. The airport has initiated a 3-year recovery strategy to maximize revenue and reduce expenses,
  • The Capital Program is experiencing escalating costs, due in part to both inflation and supply chain constraints, $1 million is recommended as a contribution to the Program in 2023,
  • There are no significant increases in local cost for programs mandated by New York State in 2023,
  • Sponsored agencies would be set to receive a 3% increase in funding as well as several over-target requests and contract obligations,

Holmes detailed over-target requests from County departments, which are requests made for funding beyond the set fiscal target. These requests include positions in several departments, Reimagining Public Safety initiatives, airport operations, programs at Tompkins Cortland Community College, and startup costs for the Alcohol and Drug Council Open Access Center.

Regarding the airport funding, Legislator Mike Sigler (R-Lansing) inquired as to whether the money committed by the County would be a loan to be paid back as fees are generated in the future. Holmes responded that the responsibility for maintaining the airport ultimately falls on the County and while it is expected the airport will again be self-sustaining in the future this is a measure realistically meant to subsidize the department in the short term. Sigler made the argument that the funding should come from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), Holmes responded that significant funds have been received by the airport through other federal programs and that the County’s funds through that program (ARPA) cannot be directly committed as the airport received other similar federal funds.

The Legislature will hear presentations from County departments detailing their budgets over the next month through the Expanded Budget Committee, an extension of the Budget, Capital, and Personnel Committee. The Expanded Budget Committee will begin its series of meetings this Thursday at 4:30pm with presentations from the following departments: Public Health, Mental Health, Sheriff’s Office, Jail, Emergency Response, and Social Services.

Legislature Approves Resolution Launching Community Recovery Fund

Legislators unanimously approved the Tompkins Community Recovery Fund guidelines and materials, with the program set to launch later this week.

Consultants tasked with managing the program, the MRB Group presented details on the guidelines and application for the program. Tracy Verrier who serves as a project manager with MRB Group gave an overview of the program and the anticipated promotion plan to reach local potential applicants. Regarding technical assistance for applicants, Verrier stated, “we’re going to encourage people to reach out as they plan to submit their application so that we can assist with the process of applying. We’ll provide feedback and help applicants have the right information in before the deadline.” Verrier also detailed the scoring rubric that will guide the scoring of applications, the rubric’s criteria will be posted on the program’s website. It is anticipated that grant awards will be reviewed and approved in December of this year.

The $6.5 million grant program is being offered through funds made available via the American Rescue Plan Act.

Program priorities include addressing the immediate and continuing impacts of COVID-19; building long term capacity, sustainability, and resilience of local communities, non-profits, and businesses; and addressing critical, unmet community needs. Legislator Dan Klein (D-Danby) who chairs the committee overseeing the fund detailed the outreach plans and that the County will use its resources to reach a diverse cross section of the community.

The Tompkins Community Recovery Fund and its application materials will be formally launched Thursday, September 8 with applications due on October 31, further details will be posted on the program’s website: https://www.tompkinscountyny.gov/communityrecoveryfund

Among Other Business

Legislature Chairwoman Shawna Black shared that next week is Child Welfare Workers Week and thanked the staff at the Department of Social Services, “whose work empowers children and families in our community.” Black added that, “our staff plays a key role in making sure families come first, and in many cases are able to keep families together. This work is so important, and I know that the Legislature is proud of what our staff do – child welfare is one of our largest divisions at Tompkins County, and their work happens a lot behind the scenes.”

Several Legislators recently welcomed Senator Kirsten Gillibrand on her recent visit to Cornell University to talk about the inflation reduction act and investments in climate and debt relief for local farms. Legislature Chairwoman Black commented, “It was great to hear from researchers at Cornell and how their work is impacted positively by the legislation, and to see how local farms benefitting from its programs.”