Tompkins County has begun its review of the recommended budget for 2013, and county officials say this year’s budget is more stable than those adopted over the past few years.
Next year’s budget stands in contrast to budgets from the past four years, when allocations for many departments were tighter and limited by an unstable national economy.
The departments and offices funded by the county budget include Information Technology Services, the Health Department and Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit. Tompkins County includes nine townships, six villages and the city of Ithaca.
The 2013 recommended budget has an overall spending increase of 0.44 percent compared to 2012.
Funding for highway materials, such as asphalt, has increased by 14 percent for next year, and funding for employee training and maintenance has increased by more than 40 percent. However, funding for some areas decreased for next year, including utilities with a recommended decrease of 5.5 percent, and salaries and wages with a 0.09 percent decrease.
Tompkins County Administrator Joe Mareane said the 2013 budget is not as tight as it has been since the Great Recession.
“It’s really the product of four years of taking some very bitter medicine,” Mareane said. “Over the past four years, our budgets have been characterized by retrenchment, reducing programs, by shrinking our personnel roster and just trying to find a way to adapt to this new economy of ours.”
Mareane was responsible for presenting legislators with a budget that reflects the needs of the different county departments, while staying within the fiscal parameters set by the Tompkins County legislation.
City of Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick has commended the recommended 2013 county budget.
“It’s a reasonable level of spending,” Myrick said. “For the first time in years, the county won’t have to cut back drastically.”
However, the budget includes an $18 annual tax increase for homeowners. Mareane said that even though they are still in the early stages of the process, they have not heard any negative feedback from citizens regarding this increase.
The county will also be collaborating with the City of Ithaca next year to fund a sustainability planner position, who will work for both the city and the county.
Mareane said the sustainability planner will be responsible for helping them incorporate more economically conscious processes and products into core operations.
Speaking at a public forum at City Hall on Tuesday, Myrick said that this position is not only a smart investment, but a moral one.
“Global warming is not only real, but it is a serious threat,” Myrick said. “Droughts, floods, storms — this is not science-fiction. It’s what is going to affect our lives and our economy. If we don’t invest in ways to stop it, we owe not just the generations after us an apology; we owe ourselves an apology.”
The TCAT has started to put together a capital improvement plan for future projects, including plans for a new TCAT office facility and the purchase of new buses. Mareane said the budget has acknowledged these possible future costs.
However, Joe Turcotte, TCAT general manager, said the reported stability in the recommended budget does not reflect in allocations for TCAT, which has received no increase in funding for 2013.
TCAT is funded jointly by Cornell University, the City of Ithaca and Tompkins
“What we are seeing is a very tight budget,” Turcotte said. “We have had our partner contribution at the same level it has been for, I believe, four years now.”
By 2013, Turcotte said, they hope to replace eight buses, with the current cost of a bus running at $380,000 each.
Once approved by the Tompkins County legislature, the recommended budget is set to be adopted in November.
Mareane said no drastic changes to the recommendations are expected between now and then.