In the aftermath of a crippling economic recession 2008, Tompkins County is looking to slowly rebuild and stabilize the local economy with its 2013 budget. Ithaca Now spoke with Jim Dennis, chair of the budget committee for Tompkins County, on a few changes the Legislature will consider before voting on the final budget Nov. 20.
The Legislature recommended adding funds for a psychiatric social worker position, increased technology support, and additional expenses at the Tompkins County Airport. If approved, the Legislature would add $64,480 in target spending to County Administrator Joe Mareane’s original budget — increasing the County’s 2013 tax levy by 3.63 percent and the property tax rate by $6.79, up 12 cents from 2012.
How economic crisis in 2008 impacted County government and continues to affect the economy:
The world changed in ’08 as you all know. Anyone who’s been in local government, things went away that used to come to local government — our pension costs went through the ceiling, the New York state pension program lost 18 percent of its value, and that meant local government had to make it up. Medicaid costs have increased considerably since ’08, and that’s a program that’s pushed down from the state that we have to share the cost of. Those two things alone have been the reason for our increases over the last three or four years. That’s a significant amount of money. It’s nearly 90 percent of our levy.
Why the City and Town of Ithaca could consider consolidating:
Years ago, the City and the Town of Ithaca had talked about consolidation, and I don’t think that’s something that should be off the table. As a County legislator, I think in [the] long run, the City and the Town combining could do both of themselves a favor, even though the City has a fair amount of debt that the Town doesn’t have. But assume, if you could, the Town population and the City population are bringing together, it would, I tend to believe, lower the costs for everyone.
There are people on the County Legislature who are talking to each other but not about metropolitan government for police and fire. Some of us think that over time, we could save money for the taxpayers if we could have a — for example — a metropolitan police force. People have talked about it. If you look at all the little villages in Tompkins County who have their own police forces… I was just looking at the numbers the other day, and it costs $2 million a year for these little villages if you combine the costs that they make and spend on their police forces. The problem with metropolitan government is, you get in turf battles, and people want to keep theirs because they don’t think the bigger one can do a better job for them. I think reasonable people can make reasonable decisions. Tompkins County has more than their fair share of reasonable people. It would take an effort over time.