TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. — The county’s $193 million budget is set for 2020 with approval Thursday night from Tompkins County legislators. They also approved the 2020-24 Capital Program.

Legislators unanimously approved the budget Thursday after months of meetings, feedback and adjustments. Legislator Mike Lane, who chairs the budget, capital, and personnel committee, said, “it’s a budget we can be proud of.”

• Related: Common Council approves 2020 Budget

The budget increases the tax levy by 2.75%, a slight decrease from the initially proposed 2.76% increase in Administrator Jason Molino’s budget. The budget amounts to an increase of about $11.41 in taxes for the owner of a median-valued $190,000 home in Tompkins County. Breaking that down, it includes a tax rate of $6.31 per $1,000 of assessed value. The budget also includes a $2 increase to the county’s annual solid waste fee, bringing it to $60.

Amendments

Over the course of the budget process, legislators have considered and approved several amendments to the original budget proposed by different departments. Below is an overview of some of the amendments that were approved. The full list is available here.

  • $50,000 in funding for parks in local villages;
  • $3,000 to support work of the Tompkins County poet laureate through the Community Arts Partnership;
  • $5,000 in support for the Tompkins County Public Library’s jail outreach program;
  • $18,000 funding for the Endeavor House, which provides a home for men transitioning from jail or prison, to help manage the increasing caseload;
  • $50,000 to the Continuum of Care for a landlord liaison and a separate $50,000 to aid the organization’s efforts to end homelessness.
  • Legislators approved a $130,000 request for a water resource engineer to be added to the soil and water district staff.

Long-term investments

Like the City of Ithaca, investing in sustainability was a theme in the county’s budget. When Tompkins County Administrator Jason Molino unveiled the budget in September, he said the county is aiming to achieve a goal of net-zero emissions by 2035. Over the next 15 years, he said the county plans to invest $100 million to “make the elimination of greenhouse gas emissions in county operations as close to a reality as possible.”

That investment over 15 years will include improvements to existing county facilities to reduce emissions, converting the county’s passenger vehicle fleet to electric vehicles, among others. Other big budget items in coming years include:

  • Developing a downtown facility — Legislators recently approved the purchase of property on North Tioga and Sears streets for $1.8 million. Currently, the county estimates it will cost up to $22 million to construct a new 37,000 to 47,000 square-foot building.
  • $30 million for public safety building improvements.
  • $2 million for emergency response improvements and $4.5 million to establish a backup dispatch center
  • $32 million over the 15-year period to make “needed improvements to existing county facilities with the goal of achieving net-zero emissions – and $200,000 for engineering related to those projects.
  • $2 million to convert the county’s 70-vehicle passenger fleet to electric vehicles.
  • $1.8 million continuing annually for capital improvements to roads and bridges.
The full budget can be viewed here.

A few other highlights from Tompkins County Legislature

More Funding for Affordable Housing: Tompkins County Legislature committed an extra $100,000 per year for the next two years for the Community Housing Development Fund, adding to the additional funding the City of Ithaca and Cornell University committed. The fund supports permanently affordable housing in Tompkins County and in the 10 years it has existed, it has awarded $3.8 million toward the construction of 491 affordable housing units, 385 which have already been built or are under construction.

Proposed Paper Bag Fee: Legislators are considering adding a five-cent fee for taking paper bags when shopping, similar to what Wegmans currently does. Before passing a local law, there will be a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 19 in Tompkins County Legislature Chambers, 121 E. Court St., Ithaca.

The proposed local law which would add a 5 cent fee for carryout paper bags. Earlier this year, New York passed a law banning single-use plastic bags. It’s set to go into effect in March 2020, though some stores like Wegmans have already banned plastic bags. Similar to Wegmans, the county will institute a five-cent fee on paper bags, which actually have a larger carbon footprint than single-use plastic bags. The fee will go into effect in March 2020 and the local share of paper bag fees will be used to purchase and distribute reusable bags, with priority given to low- and fixed-income individuals.

As stated by Tom Shelley, who chairs the Waste Reduction Committee, at Thursday’s meeting: “Paper bags are no better than plastic bags. We encourage everyone to use reusable bags.”

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.