Tompkins County has adopted the 2017 budget and capital program for the next five years.

The tax rate is down by 11 cents — with a rate of $6.62 per $1,000. However, since median house values have increased, taxpayers who own a median-valued $175,000 home will see an increase of about $15.65 in their tax bill. The 2017 $171 million budget increases the tax levy by 2.93 percent, which is over the state’s tax cap of 2.22 percent.

The tax rate went down because of “new wood,” legislator Jim Dennis, who chairs the budget committee, said. Essentially, that means there is more assessable property, and higher value assessed property in Tompkins County because of construction over the last year, Dennis said.

“Looking ahead, I think as things get built and the transition takes place in the county in terms of some of the kind of construction that is underway or proposed that the tax rate should decrease a little bit each year because of the ‘new wood’ as we call it,” Dennis said.

In the 2017 budget, there are investments in several housing initiatives, including the upcoming Tompkins County Housing Summit.

As Tompkins County faces pressure from the New York State Commission of Correction to find solutions to overcrowding at the jail, the county is making several investments related to reentry services in 2017. The county is investing about $50,000 over the next three years for transitional housing for people who are coming through the criminal justice system and do not have a place to live, Dennis said. Funding is also going to Opportunities, Alternatives and Resources for a college initiative program.

The county will also fund an additional correctional officer for the jail, which Dennis said will help offset overtime costs that have “soared.” Funding was also allocated to equip members of the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office with body cameras, a goal for 2017.

To help reach greenhouse gas emission targets, Tompkins County is investing in an energy navigator position. The budget also put more money into the planning department so that the county is better prepared to handle snowstorms and flooding events, Dennis said.

The Tompkins County Public Library will receive funding for a part-time technology librarian. Dennis said as technology rapidly evolves, libraries have to keep up with how their visitors are operating.

The budget was approved 13-1 Tuesday at a Tompkins County Legislature meeting. Legislator Dooley Kiefer voted no because she said she was uncomfortable about the increase in sales tax revenue estimates for 2017 made late in the budget process.

Sales tax revenue has continued to decline since about 2014, despite the economy looking good otherwise. However, the county is projecting that sales tax revenue will begin to rise in 2017. In past legislature meetings, County Administrator Joe Mareane has said it is a difficult projection to make.

Another unknown that may impact the 2017 budget is whether the Commission of Correction will continue to extend the variance. If the variance is not extended, the board out costs per year could be nearly $800,000. To show the state the county is making progress, the county has commissioned an $85,000 jail population study, and has also invested in reentry services.

“We’re under pressure and we’re going to respond to that,” Dennis said.

In the 2017 budget, Dennis said the county maintained its programs and was also able to respond to a number of one-time requests.

“I think we’ve done that in a reasonable way with a very minimal tax increase,” Dennis said.

Somewhat related to the budget, the 2017 solid waste fee was also approved, at $55 per household/billing unit.

The summary and final amendments of the adopted budget will be available at www.TompkinsCountyNY.gov/ctyadmin/2017budget.

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.