TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. — In Tompkins County Legislature Chambers on Tuesday evening, members of the public voiced strong support for a local outreach worker program that helps people in distress in Downtown Ithaca.

Six of nine people who spoke at the county’s public hearing regarding the 2019 budget talked about the impact of the program and asked the county to support more outreach workers. The program is currently operated through Family and Children’s Service of Ithaca with a partnership between the City of Ithaca, Cayuga Medical Center, Downtown Ithaca Alliance and Tompkins County.

The county’s share in the outreach program has been $20,000 since 2017, and the proposed amount for 2019 is the same.

Tammy Baker, who is the outreach worker downtown, said she collaboratively works with service providers in town and the Ithaca Police Department. She said some of the people she works with have fallen through the cracks or are traumatized by the system. She said she meets people where they are. Since the program started, the number of people she helps has kept growing.

Ithaca Police Officer Mary Orsaio, who patrols Downtown Ithaca, asked the county to reconsider the funding they’re giving to the outreach program and hire another outreach worker. She said if the county wants to address the homelessness crisis and opioid crisis, a solution is hiring more outreach workers, especially since Baker only works during business hours.

The outreach worker program was also a topic of discussion at Ithaca Common Council on Tuesday. Common Council considered increasing its proposed 2019 allocation by $20,000 to support a second outreach worker. However, Common Council voted to move forward with $40,000 in funding in part because they did not expect the county to match an increased contribution.

On right, Nancy Webster, secretary of the CSEA Blue Collar unit, addresses Tompkins County Legislature on Oct. 30. (Photo by Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)
On right, Nancy Webster, secretary of the CSEA Blue Collar unit, addresses Tompkins County Legislature on Oct. 30. (Photo by Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)

Nearly 20 people also came out to support the county’s CSEA Blue Collar union, which is currently having contract discussions with the county. They carried signs saying, “Fair Contract Now!” Speakers urged the county to support a fair and equitable contract.

After weeks of discussion and adjustment, Tompkins County legislators are set to vote on the full amended budget Nov. 8. As it stands, the amended budget would increase the county tax levy 1.54 percent, slightly higher than what was initially proposed by County Administrator Jason Molino. However, it’s still lower than the Legislature’s 2.2 percent levy goal for 2019.

The tax rate will decrease 18 cents this year to $6.40 per thousand. But overall, the tax bill for a median-valued $185,000 home will increase $13.90. Legislators also approved a $3 increase to the solid waste fee, which will increase to $58.

Legislators have considered a number of amendments over the past few weeks, from small one-time requests as low as $2,500 to larger adjustments like increasing the budget for homelessness services $304,000. The increase is to cover costs associated with replacing the Rescue Mission’s homeless services with St. John’s.

Here’s a look at a few other amendments that were considered:

  • Related to homelessness, three years of one-time funding for additional para-professional staffing in LawNY to “provide early intervention services to county residents facing the threat of homelessness” was approved for $40,000.
  • One amendment, moved by Legislator Mike Sigler, requested $23,000 in one-time funding to be distributed to the Towns of Ithaca, Lansing, Groton, Newfield, Enfield, Ulysses, Danby, Caroline and Dryden for them to “acquire, develop and enhance” public parks. This amendment was not approved. Instead, a $50,000 “Park Fund” administered by the Department of Planning and Sustainability was supported instead, also moved by Sigler. It states that each town and village in Tompkins County may apply for one grant of up to $5,000 from the park fund for infrastructure planning and improvements to publicly managed or supported parks.
  • $50,000 in funding was put aside in the contingent fund for the position of Resource Coordinator for Mental Health Court, pending details and progress on Mental Health Court. The county is in the early stages of bringing a Mental Health Court to Tompkins County.
  • Another big expense approved was $200,000 for a one-time fund to be available for a traffic study focused on Route 13 from Dryden Village to Warren Road.
  • Legislators allocated $62,000 to Cooperative Extension to support expanding their storage and classroom space using shipping containers.
  • To see all the amendments that were approved at Expanded Budget Committee Voting Meetings this month, click here or look below.

Amendments Considered for T… by on Scribd

For more information on the Tompkins County 2019 Recommended Budget, visit the county’s budget page.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the city of Ithaca’s Common Council voted on a budget amendment to double the city’s proposed 2019 contribution to the community worker program from $20,000 to $40,000. The amendment – which did not carry – would have increased the city’s proposed contribution from $40,000 to $60,000.

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.