TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—The Tompkins County Legislature brought their 2022 budgeting process to a close on Tuesday, approving $195,271,695 of expenditures alongside a five year capital project spending plan of $128,282,650.

Here’s a breakdown of the budget that passed on Tuesday, including some highlights from the budgeting process. The amended 2022 budget is expected to be published by the county and available to the public by the end of the year.

2022-2026 Capital Plan

The capital plan consists of various investments that the county is making into infrastructure—improvements to the Ithaca Tompkins International Airport, bridge rehabilitation projects, road improvements, etc. The capital plan also includes a plan to decarbonize the county’s municipal buildings. You can view every project the county is planning to tackle in the next five years in this 2022-2026 Capital Plan and Budget Document

Of the approximately $128M that’s planned to be spent over the coming years,  $14,855,450 of it is being drawn from the funds the county received through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Tompkins County received a is set to receive a total of $19,847,267 in two tranches as a result of ARPA; it has already received the first tranche of funding. The county’s rationale for dedicating such a high proportion of the ARPA funding to the capital plan is to reduce the total debt service it will have to pay when it bonds to pursue various projects. The approach is dubbed “cash for capital.” The annual savings on debt service the county will see is supposed to be about $1.67M.

For 2022, the county budgeted to spend $6,367,071 on capital projects.

Keeping the Tax Levy the same

Seemingly the most debated change made by legislators to the original budget was the nixing of an increase to the tax levy. Originally recommended to increase by 2.7 percent by Interim-County Administrator Lisa Holmes, the tax levy was drawn down to a zero-percent levy increase over 2021’s levy. This happened through a couple of amendments brought to the recommended budget. The difference in the tax levy will be made up by drawing about $1.6M from the County’s unassigned fund balance.

The county tax rate in 2022 will decrease by 1.81 percent from 2021’s rate, and will—on average across the county—be $6.10 per thousand dollars of a home’s assessed value. If assessed home and property values stay the same in Tompkins County, then county property taxes will remain the same. 

Legislators who favored this move did so in the light of the economic impacts of the pandemic, with the intent of lightening the financial burden on county residents for 2022, but they’re making a gamble. Sales tax or some other revenue source will need to perform well in 2022 in order to avoid a spike in the levy come next year or the year after that. 

In Holmes’ presentation of the recommended 2022 budget, on Sept. 14, she said that the county is going to be playing it safe and avoid a situation where sales tax revenue is overestimated. 

“I think it’s safe to say that economic recovery is still rather unpredictable. Sales tax is also notoriously difficult to forecast” said Holmes. “We’re taking a conservative approach to projecting sales tax for the remainder of 2021 and thus 2022.”

County sales tax revenue for 2021 is projected to bring in just under $36M, with an assumed growth of 10.97 percent growth over 2020’s sales tax revenue. The county is budgeting for 2022’s sales tax revenue to only grow 0.07 percent over 2022’s.

The will of the majority of the legislature was to utilize conservative planning—with the expectation that sales tax revenue will perform better than is being budgeted around—to give property owners a break amid the shaky ground many still walk on as the economy recovers. The amendment to lower the levy to zero was voted in 10-4, with Legislators Lane (D-Dryden), Schill (D-Ithaca), Dawson (D-Lansing), as well as Granison (D-Ithaca) opposing.

Including the funds drawn from the unassigned fund balance, the county tax levy is projected to bring in $52,399,459 to go towards the county budget.

Amendments to the Budget

The budget was originally recommended to be at $193,873,417 by Interim-County Administrator Lisa Holmes on Sept. 14 but legislators considered a variety of over target requests from county departments, local non profits, and other various agencies.

Although a trifling within the budget, there was much ado about an additional $15,000 dollars to go towards staffing the Tompkins CountyPublic Library (TCPL) to keep it open on Sundays. The Library originally requested this money from the City of Ithaca, which it declined to include in its 2022 budget under the thinking that it’s the county’s responsibility to fund the library and that county taxes on city residents should account for this cost. Two of the 10 city council members voted in support of the funding, Alderpersons Laura Lewis and Ducson Nguyen.

Speaking before the budget vote at Tuesday’s Legislature meeting, Legislator Deborah Dawson—Chair of the Budget, Capital, and Personnel Committee—tried to put the contribution requested of the City into proportion. She said that, “The $15,000 that the library asked for from the city constitutes five-millionth of 1 percent (0.000000002) of the amount the county is contributing—Do your homework people.”

The Legislature originally dedicated just under $3.25M towards TCPL, which makes up over 80 percent of the library’s revenues.

Legislator Rich John (D-Ithaca), who represents District 4—set within part of collegetown and part of downtown Ithaca—on the County Legislature, said on Tuesday, “I represent a city district and I’m cognizant of the issue of double taxation that people sometimes talk about, but I agree that there is real benefit to the county and the city working together.” He added, “$15,000 just seems to be a reasonable—actually a very small amount—in the type of budgets we’re talking about in the city and the county.”

The legislature ultimately put forward an additional $15,000 for TCPL in an amendment raised by Legislator Amanda Champion (D-Ithaca). Champion, who is the legislature’s liaison to the library board, said she put forward the amendment of her own volition without being asked by anyone at TCPL to do so.

In addition, the legislature budgeted another $15,000 to be put towards funding rural library services. This amendment brought total funding budgeted for rural libraries to $205,797, which brings the total county-contributed funding to rural libraries to pre-pandemic levels.

Additional Amendments

In total, Tompkins Cortland Community College is seeing a little over $3.6M go towards it in the Tompkins budget. The target amount was originally a bit over $3M, but legislators proposed two amendments to the budget: the first tacks on an additional $310,000 to contribute to capital improvements and deferred maintenance work at the college; the second puts forward additional $220,500 to go towards TC3’s workforce and career development pilot program.

The County legislature passed an amendment to put $199,656 towards the development of affordable housing for people leaving incarceration. The project is called “Sunflower Houses,” and is a joint effort between Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (INHS), Ultimate Reentry Opportunity, and Opportunities Alternatives and Resources (OAR) of Tompkins County.

Finger Lakes Re-Use will receive $130,000 from the County budget each year for the next three years. Re-Use used to receive funding through the County’s Recycling and Materials Management Department. Changes in that industry have impacted the department’s revenues and made it unsustainable for it to continue to direct funds to Re-Use. Diane Cohen, the executive director of Finger Lakes Re-Use, joined the meeting and told legislators this contribution from the county would fill a much needed gap in the organization’s revenue. She said while monetary donations have surged for Re-Use, so have material donations, and alongside that the services that the organization provides, effectively outpacing the revenue the organization can bring in. She thanked legislators for their consideration.

The budget also saw $100,000 dollars dedicated to run a compensation study to better assess what competitive wage and salary packages are for employees and potential hires of the county.

The Legislature allocated an additional $70,000 to the Tompkins County Human Services Coalition (TCHSC). The coalition is involved in health and housing programs and initiatives among other areas, and requested over $400,000 from the legislature to help meet the increasing demand it is seeing on its programming. The legislature previously authorized $7M to establish a community recovery grant program which organizations like TCHSC will be able to apply to for support funds as they recover from financial impacts of the pandemic. Another amendment contributed an additional $40,000 to TSHC for an early intervention homelessness prevention program. This amendment is set to become a part of the target funding the county contributes to TCHSC every year.

Through a few amendments, the county is budgeting to contribute funding to three programs associated with Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE). The first, Career Pathways, run by Extension in conjunction with several local agencies, aims to address employment barriers for marginalized county residents and will have $85,000 put towards it. The second, is a collaboration between Extension and Cornell graduate students to help people navigate the health and well being resources within the county that exist across different organizations. The legislature approved $45,000 of funding for the program. The third amendment contributed $50,000 to CCE for rural outreach work.

The budget includes $75,000 to be put toward studying the benefits and costs of county wide code enforcement. The funds will be put towards hiring a consultant that will initiate a study on the matter. This measure does not mean that the county is committed to being the lead code enforcement agency across municipalities; it is an exploratory effort.

To support childcare access, the legislature amended the budget to include $50,000 to go towards the Child Development Council. The funds are for a Childcare coordinator position. This position is supposed to aid individuals in establishing a childcare business within their home, which don’t have to follow all the same costly regulatory requirements as childcare centers. Melissa Perry, the executive Director of the Child Development Council, said that the position has helped create childcare availability where there’s just one slot for every 3.5 children in the county.

LawNY will see $40,000 from county funds go toward a program to aid clients facing eviction and homelessness. LawNY’s work was described to the legislature by its executive director Keither McCafferty, who said the organization helps their clients find places to live in the case of eviction, and connects them with resources to fight evictions when the cases arise. He told the legislature that LawNY is expecting to see a surge in cases when New York State’s eviction moratorium comes to an end in January.

The Legislature contributed an additional $5000 dollars to the stipend that the County Historian receives, as well as allocating $2,000 as a stipend for the County Poet Laureate. These two allocations are aimed to be turned into yearly items in the budget.

Department Budgets

Almost every single department and agency that is considered in the county’s budgeting process saw an increase in the funds they should see for 2022 over 2021.

The Tompkins County Jail saw a slight decrease in funding from its 2021 budget, seeing its budget go down $32,498 or less than 0.006 percent of its 2021 budget. A decrease was also seen in the funds to be allocated to the Community Agencies under TCHSC, although these agencies will be eligible for funding through the forthcoming Community Grant Recovery Program established by the Legislature.

You can view the allocations the county made for 2022 in the 2022 budget’s Fiscal Summary document, or below.  All recommended Over Target Requests (OTR) were approved by the legislature. add the “OTR recommended” column with the funding listed in the “Target.” This page does not include any funding allocated through amendments.

Tompkins County’s 2021 Adopt budget is available on the county website.

Jimmy Jordan

Jimmy Jordan is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact him at jjordan@ithacavoice.com Connect with him on Twitter @jmmy_jrdn