After a crippling recession forced Tompkins County to raise taxes and cut both government positions and programs in 2008, 2013 may be the start of a more stable economic environment.
Ithaca Now spoke with Tompkins County administrator Joe Mareane, author of the proposed 2013 Budget. As the County makes strides to balance its finances and preserve its notable programs, Mareane said the County aimed to settle tax rates and find resources to repair government “cracks and fissures” — or departments where the legislature has cut too deeply in the past.
“This toehold that we seemed to have achieved today isn’t at the expense of tomorrow,” he said.
The new budget would increase spending by 0.4 percent and proposes an $18 property tax increase — the lowest increase for residential tax bills in 15 years. The entire plan could also be supported by a 3.5 percent tax levy that the Tompkins County Legislature set last year.
Mareane explains how the national recession impacted Tompkins County:
“Imagine when that recession hit in 2008. The need for our services went through the roof, and the money we had to pay for those services went down. This county and really every other county in New York state found itself in a very difficult financial situation. The budget that I presented the other night is really a reflection of what we’ve down over the past four years to basically try to understand this new environment, adapt to it and rebalance. We have taken some very bitter medicine over the past four years. Our roster is down by nine percent over where it was just a couple years ago, so one out of 11 County employees that used to be here is no longer here. We’ve cut programs. We’ve raised taxes. We’ve done a lot of things over the past four years to try to rebalance. The budget that we presented the other night reflects the fact that we’ve found some level of equilibrium that I think is elusive in a lot of other county governments.”
On what Tompkins County residents can expect from the 2013 Budget:
“If you’re receiving services today from the County, those services will be available to you next year. The sad truth is, a lot of people are getting services from us today that never thought they would. This economy has really taken the legs out from under a lot of families. Our unemployment rate today — even though it’s lower than most of the state — we’re still hitting seven percent unemployment in Tompkins County, which never goes above some place in the threes, so there’s still a lot of people that need our services. They can be assured that those services will be there for them next year. If you drive our roads, you may have noticed that they’re not as good maybe as they used to be, but you can be assured that we’ll put a little bit of money back into those roads. Not perfect… but we’ll put a little back….”
“What it doesn’t mean — and I can’t emphasize this enough — stability is not complacency. We haven’t gotten lazy or soft. Our roster is still down — if the legislature accepts my budget, by eight percent over a couple years ago. We’re going to add a couple positions: four this time, but we’re not soft or complacent. We’re not growing back to where we were before.”