April 30, 2008

Tompkins County Faces Budget Cuts

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The slowing economy is affecting the outlook for the 2008 Tompkins County budget, which will have to accommodate a significant cut in expenditures. Nathan Shinagawa ’05 (D-4th Ward), the Tompkins County Legislature Budget and Capital Committee chairman, described the situation as “tough” and said that his colleagues in other counties are facing similar cuts.
“When the state is in a budget crunch, it’s [an] easy temptation to push costs over to the county,” Shinagawa said.
In the most recent state budget, released this past month, Tompkins County will receive a 2-percent cut in funding, which represents $700,000 from a total budget of $73 million. In addition, the county will see an increase of about $800,000 in mandatory spending on salary increases. As a result Shinagawa will preside over a budgeting process that will have to find room for $1.5 million in increasing costs, without expanding any of the county’s programs.
According to Shinagawa, the only way that Tompkins County can pay for these services is to raise the property or sales tax, which does not seem like a likely option given the current state of the economy. Additionally, raising taxes would burden the working class and those on fixed incomes.
“We can’t allow taxes to go up in the double digits,” Shinagawa said. “The areas of the county budget that are most likely to be affected will be the human service agencies and other aid programs. Unfortunately we have to think about looking at those agencies and possibly cutting some of their funding.”
The budget writing process formally begins in May, when Steve Whicher, the county administrator, will be given a directive on where the cuts should be made. Deliberations will take place this summer and the budget will have to be passed in the fall.
In the past decade, the New York State government has passed tax cuts for the wealthy, while more costs for programs like social services have been pushed on to local governments and municipalities. “Governor Patterson is now trying to undue a lot of the mess that was created,” Shinagawa explained, “but basically we’re really getting the short end of the stick here.”
Because most Cornell students live within the City of Ithaca, there should be no immediate effects from the budget shortfall on the overall student body. However, Cornell students that volunteer within the local community could return to school in the fall to find local organizations facing staff and programming cuts.