November 20, 2011

Tompkins County Legislature Passes Budget

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After nearly seven months of planning and debate, the Tompkins County Legislature approved  its 2012 budget by an 11-2 vote Tuesday. The budget will raise property taxes while cutting county services.

County Administrator Joe Mareane praised the legislature and department heads for making tough decisions during an economic downturn. During the budget process, legislators were “careful, deliberate, thoughtful and caring about service,” Mareane said.

Legislators Dooley Kiefer ’57 (D – 10th District) and Leslyn McBean-Clairborne (D – 2nd District), however, voted against the budget. Kiefer said that service cuts in the budget will “set ourselves up for a harder time next year,” according to a press release from the county.

The budget will eliminate 25 county jobs, according to Jim Dennis (D -15th District), chair of the Budget and Capital Committee.

Twenty of the 25 jobs eliminated come from the legislature’s decision to privatize the Community Home Health Agency, which removed these employees from the county payroll. Additionally, two retirees will not be replaced and three county positions will be abolished in the coming year, Dennis said.

The county has now eliminated 68 jobs since 2009, according to the press release.

The budget also contains a 3.99 percent increase in the county tax levy. This increase is  more than one percent higher than the New York State property tax cap, which the legislature voted to override.

During the budget process, several legislators complained about conflicting signals from Albany, N.Y., which asked counties and municipalities to cap taxes while providing no relief for mandated programs, they said. State aid will fall 4.7 percent from 2011 to 2012, according to Kevin Sutherland, budget coordinator for the county.

Dennis said the budget for Tompkins County compared favorably to that of other counties in New York.

“Some counties are using their reserve funds to lower the levy — that’s going to catch up to them. We haven’t done that,” Dennis said. “We can’t put ourselves in a bad financial position, or we’ll jeopardize our bond rating.”

Dennis added that some counties are using upwards of 70 percent of their reserve funds to maintain services, which he called “frightening.”

Legislator David McKenna (R – 8th District) also criticized New York State’s lack of funding.

“It would be nice if the State would step up and cover the costs of some of their mandates so we could lower the budget more,” McKenna said.

The budget was identical to the budget presented to the public on Nov. 9.

Original Author: Matthew Rosenspire