November 20, 2008

New Tompkins Budget Allocates Funds for Libraries, Health Department

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In order to grapple with state cuts to the budget next year, on Tuesday the Tompkins County Legislature passed its 2009 budget, which calls for a three percent tax levy increase. A tax levy is money raised by the city through property taxes to fund various services and programs.
According to The Ithaca Journal, the legislature has proposed a $74 million budget for next year, which contains a 2.99-percent increase in the tax levy. Considered one of the most significant, long-term increases in funding, the money will be allocated for supporting libraries and the county health department. The budget for 2008 was about $72.5 million.
County Administrator Joe Mareane told The Journal that levy provides flexibility for the county as New York State faces significant budget cuts in the next year. The New York State economy has especially been hit hard by the financial crisis, as a significant portion of the state’s revenue is generated by Wall Street.
The budget passed with a vote of 11-4. Those who voted against the proposed budget argued that it did not have a sufficient cushion in the fund balance. The Journal indicated that legislators were worried that there was not enough money set aside in excess of the fund balance. Specifically, former County Administrator Steve Whicher voiced concern that the budget should contain $1 million in excess of the base fund balance. However, only $866,000 was set aside.
In order to fulfill the legislature’s goal, the county highway department suffered the greatest losses. $250,000 was cut from the highway budget in a time when some residents are very concerned about the conditions of the road, especially as the winter months set in creating an even more hazardous environment.
Ed Marx, commissioner of county planning, told The Journal, “We look at our annual program in late winter every year to see the conditions of the roads, and we’ll just have to be very judicious in our allocation of funds to the things that absolutely need it and not do the levels of work that we can’t afford with the funds we’ve got.”
Two amendments to the budget were also voted on Tuesday.
One of the amendments proposed increasing the tax levy hike by 0.03 percent to fund a part-time position in the county finance office. It failed by a vote of 9-6.
An amendment passed by 12-3 to provide the county historian with $2,000 to start a new Civil War Commission.