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Highlights of the September 8, 2022 Expanded Budget Committee meeting of the Tompkins County Legislature

Tompkins County Expanded Budget Committee Meetings Begin

The Tompkins County Legislature gathered as an Expanded Budget Committee to hear the first group of departmental budget presentations. Legislator Deborah Dawson (D-Lansing), who chairs the Budget, Capital, and Personnel Committee stated that this process is “the most important service we perform as the County Legislature. We are going to be hearing from 58 departments, units, and not for profits that our budget supports.” Legislator Mike Lane (D-Dryden) added, “the reason we spend so much time on this is transparency, so everyone on the Legislature has a voice and knows where the money is coming from and where it is going.”

Public Health and Mental Health

Public Health Director Frank Kruppa presented the 2023 Public Health Department budget. Major influences on the department’s budget include increased state aid, target budget requests for an environmental health specialist and community health workers, and other administrative positions and positions created under grants. Kruppa stated, “We’re excited to make some of these changes without requiring additional funding from the Legislature” as some additional funds have become available through state aid. The Public Health Department has around 79 full-time equivalent employees. Kruppa detailed three over target requests, one to support work around Public Health Sanitary Code, one for the procurement of five emissions-free or hybrid vehicles that are to be reimbursed under State aid, and one to increase certain information aide positions to the Tompkins County living wage of $16.61 per hour.

Kruppa’s presentation of the Mental Health Department’s budget included major influences of staff shortages and retention and the mobile crisis team’s increase in demand for services. On the topic of staff shortages and retention. Kruppa spoke about maintenance of the mobile crisis team and that the current model is unsustainable, the new approach being recommended is a co-response program with law enforcement utilizing new positions dedicated to mental health crisis response. The Mental Health Department’s recommended staffing for 2023 is 60.6 full-time equivalent employees.

Over target requests include $258,574 being requested to support the co-response program and $200,000 to support the Alcohol and Drug Council’s Open Access Center start-up costs. On the topic of the co-response program Kruppa stated, “We talked to County Administration and the Sheriff, knowing that there is still the broader Reimagining Public Safety initiative happening… This is a way to move the mobile crisis team to a standalone program with the Sheriff’s Office.” This would be a two-team approach, pairing licensed clinical therapists with law enforcement officers. They would be on shift during daytime hours when there are a bulk of calls for service. The additional recommendations to support this request would include a Tompkins County Sheriff’s Deputy funded by Tompkins County and an Officer at the Ithaca Police Department funded by the City of Ithaca, as well as funding through the Community Justice Center to study the outcomes of the first year of the program. Kruppa stressed that it is important that the program be a cohesive and collaborative team between the Mental Health Department, Sheriff’s Office, and Ithaca Police Department.

The Public Health and Mental Health departments are set to merge in the coming months following charter revisions anticipated by the Legislature. Kruppa cited major efficiencies that are being supported by shared administrative staff between the two divisions, resulting in shared workloads.

Tompkins County Sheriff's Office and Jail

Sheriff Derek Osborne presented his office’s 2023 recommended budget, totaling just over $7 million, up around $931,000 from 2022. Osborne detailed the increased costs including negotiated salary adjustments, new state mandates within the office’s civil division and ongoing efforts related to Reimagining Public Safety, namely the Sheriff’s Clerk’s positions under the unarmed response pilot program and the deputy requested for the co-response program with Mental Health. Osborne also reported that efforts to continue the accreditation process are included in the 2023 recommended budget as well as funding to provide security at the Tompkins County Human Services Building. $132,463 is being requested to support the co-response program with Mental Health.

The recommended corrections division (jail) budget totals $6.28 million, up around $900,000 due to increased salary costs anticipated. There is an $80,000 over target request for increased fuel prices.

Department of Emergency Response

Department Director Michael Stitley overviewed the 2023 recommended budget, totaling $3.8 million, up $511,146 from 2022. The department’s increase comes from two new dispatcher positions and a data analyst position. Stitley detailed a staffing study that led to the requested increase in the number of dispatchers, staffing has not increased since 2004 whereas the number of calls has increased over that period of time.

There was a discussion on where local revenues come from in the department’s budget, which include revenue generated from leased space on towers owned by the County. Regarding the requested data analyst, department staff shared that much of their work would be related to discovery requests coming from the District Attorney’s Office, and that those duties would be pulled from the department’s professional development coordinator. Funding for the data analyst position will be partially offset by state funding for discovery-related expenses.

Department of Social Services

Tompkins County Administrator Lisa Holmes detailed late news in mandate costs related to Department of Social Services programming not previously factored into the 2023 recommended budget. Mandated increases only partially offset by state and federal revenues will impact the County’s budget by around $541,000, though Holmes proposes that rather than increasing the tax levy amount to make up for the difference she is recommending changes to the initial proposals around anticipated staffing vacancy rates, decreasing the amount set aside for the anticipated salary increases following the compensation study, and using funds from a room-tax revenue surplus recently reported.

Commissioner of Social Services Kit Kephart presented the department’s recommended 2023 budget totaling $22.9 million. Social Services is the County’s largest department, with 184.5 full-time equivalent employees recommended for 2023, up from 181 in 2022. Major factors contributing the budget include mandate programs for adoption and foster care, temporary assistance for individuals and families, and Medicaid contributions, as well as increased payroll and contracted services.

Kephart detailed “known unknowns,” reviewing how economic trends might impact caseloads, that the population of individuals experiencing homelessness and seeking shelter (108 people, up from 52 at this time last year, with lengths of shelter stays increasing as well) may expand, and low-income childcare subsidy programs expanding the number of families who may receive subsidies which are reimbursed to the department.

For more information on the recommended 2023 Tompkins County Budget, visit: https://tompkinscountyny.gov/news/highlights-september-6-2022-meeting-tompkins-county-legislature