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Highlights of the May 2, 2023 meeting of the Tompkins County Legislature

Resolution Passes Amending Strategic Tourism Planning Board Budget to Support Arts and Culture Organizations, Tourism Programming

A resolution passed unanimously (14-0) allocating unspent room tax from 2022 into the current budget for several items including $685,000 to Arts and Cultural Organizational Development (ACOD) grants to help stabilize local organizations, additional investments for tourism-related grants, and support for the Ithaca/Tompkins County Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). The adjustment totaled $1.425 million. A special round of grants will become available for the ACOD-funded organizations.

The budget adjustment was proposed due to Hotel Room Occupancy Tax (room tax) revenues greatly exceeding expenses in 2022. $2.4 million was forecasted due to uncertainty around the lingering pandemic impacts on travel and tourism, though tax receipts exceeded $4.2 million with the demand for travel recovering faster than expected. The Tompkins County Strategic Tourism Planning Board recommended this budget adjustment to the Legislature.

The passage of this resolution follows a delay while a legal opinion was sought. County Attorney Bill Troy opined that the previously allocated money could not be re-allocated because there is no claw back provision.

Chair of the Strategic Tourism Planning Board, Brett Bossard spoke during public comment about what the all-volunteer board is and how it advises the Legislature and makes recommendations regarding how hotel room tax revenue is spent in the community.  

Legislature Approves $510,000 in Community Recovery Fund Grants

Following the withdrawal of Second Wind Cottages’ application, $510,000 became available for previously-unfunded Community Recovery Fund applicants. The Legislature unanimously (14-0) approved 13 grant applications after Legislators had a chance to further review the applicants. Legislators thanked Committee Chair Dan Klein (D-Danby) for his leadership throughout the recovery fund process.

The intent to fund a 14th application from Khuba International was approved by a unanimous vote of 14-0, though it- must still be considered by the Town of Danby as it pertains to the Town’s zoning and amendments being sought by the organization. Khuba International is a black-led non-profit organization that seeks to integrate youth education, sustainable agriculture, and community development through hands-on programming and inclusive partnership-building.

Tompkins County Workforce Development Board and Office of Employment and Training Merged via Charter Change

The Tompkins County Legislature unanimously (14-0) approved a Charter change merging two workforce development-focused departments, the Workforce Development Board and Office of Employment and Training (Workforce N.Y.). The change streamlines how the two departments work together, putting them under one director who will report to the Tompkins County Administrator. There is no anticipated impact for clients, jobseekers, or employers due to this change.

Among Other Business

A proclamation was read acknowledging Older Americans Month in Tompkins County. The proclamation was accepted by Lisa Monroe, Director of the Tompkins County Office for the Aging, and spoke to the importance of recognizing the positive aspects of aging, as well as challenges faced by older adults. Monroe invited the community to the Office for the Aging’s open house event on May 12 from 1-4pm.

A proclamation was read by Legislator Dan Klein (D-Danby) recognizing Grateful Dead Day, celebrating the upcoming concert at Cornell University on the anniversary of the famous 1977 concert held in Baton Hall at Cornell.

Legislator Veronica Pillar (D-Ithaca) read a proclamation celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. The proclamation highlighted the experiences and challenges of AAPI in the United States and remarked on AAPI achievements and citizenship. “Advancing Leaders Through Opportunity” is the month’s theme for 2023.

Following a rally on the Commons in Downtown Ithaca, a group of local activists participated in public comment advocating for the “FreeCAT” campaign pushing for free and expanded local public transit. The commenters delivered a petition including hundreds of signatures in support of the effort.

Tompkins County Administrator Lisa Holmes updated the Legislature on the New York State Budget and its impact on the County. As has been discussed at the County-level, eFMAP funds will still be intercepted by the State, though the interception will be phased in over the next three years. It is also anticipated that New York State will cover up to 50% of the added costs for Assigned Counsel fees. Holmes stated that the County’s budget will be impacted approximately $1 million less negatively than was previously expected.

Monalita Smiley, Project Director of the Community Justice Center presented a brief overview of progress on Reimagining Public Safety initiatives. Smiley shared that recruitment is ongoing for CJC Advisory Board members and seven Reimagining initiatives are currently in progress at the working group stage. The document including updates referenced by Smiley can be found online.

A resolution passed 12-2 (Legislators Mike Sigler (R-Lansing) and Randy Brown (R-Newfield) opposed) establishing a 2024 County Financial Goal informing the upcoming County Budget with a tentative 5.53% increase in the property tax levy above the 2023 level. The resolution cites the potential increase as recommended by the County Administrator so that a budget can begin to be formed, and that economic and fiscal conditions may change in the leadup to the formal 2024 Recommended Tompkins County Budget. The goal is based on the results of the Legislature’s recent conversation on 2024 budget preparation and does not commit the County to that exact levy increase.