TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—A lengthy Tompkins County Legislature meeting included introducing a tax break for volunteer firefighters, hiking pay for correction officers at the Tompkins County Jail (which found itself a very popular topic during the meeting, explored further here) and naming a new Tompkins County Poet Laureate.
You can watch the full meeting here or follow along with the agenda here.
The legislature approved a measure that takes 10% off a property’s taxable value for people who are volunteer firefighters and volunteer ambulance workers, a move with hopes of boosting volunteer firefighter participation.
Legislator Lee Shurtleff, a longtime firefighter in Groton, said that he had run the numbers, and while the Tompkins County property tax would be somewhat beneficial, its impact would be muted. He said that it would be a good move for the county, but that it would, unfortunately, be more symbolic than tangible until other municipalities join in.
“I sat down and did an analysis of what the exemption would mean just for the department I belong to,” Shurtleff said. “The cost to Tompkins County to extend this 10% exemption, in my estimation, would be about $20,000 with our current membership.”
Tompkins County’s Director of Assessment Jay Franklin said that, essentially, the tax break means that instead of taxing a $200,000 property at its full value, the property would be assessed at $180,000 for tax purposes only, meaning a lower tax bill (the actual value of the house would not be changed).
Shurtleff was unsure if he was allowed to vote on the measure or not since it would benefit him directly as a volunteer firefighter; County Attorney Bill Troy said it as long as Shurtleff was transparent about the impact it would have on him his participation was fine, particularly because the benefit would be small, but Shurtleff abstained from the vote anyway.
Shurtleff pointed out that the largest fueler of property taxes is local school districts, so the more significant discounts could come if they begin to opt-in to tax break programs. That doesn’t seem imminent, however.
“If the school districts participate, it means something,” Shurtleff said, acknowledging that if the county is the only entity that introduces the tax break, it won’t mean very much—especially considering New York State already offers a $200 income tax break for volunteer firefighters and they are only allowed to take one of the exemptions. For many, if not all, of the volunteers, the state’s tax break is preferable to the county property tax break.
Legislator Greg Mezey added an amendment asking all municipalities and school districts in the county to adopt similar tax breaks for volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers. Newfield is the only municipality that has officially adopted it, but several other towns are gradually moving toward introducing similar legislation.
Corrections Officers Staffing
Though it was only proposed during the meeting and characterized as an emergency measure, the Tompkins County Legislature promptly approved increased correction officer funding at the conclusion of its meeting Tuesday night.
Tompkins County Sheriff Derek Osborne presented the changes, which will include a $7,500 signing bonus for any new or returning officer hired in 2023 (including those already hired this year), in return for a three-year commitment. There are also $10,000 signing bonuses available for lateral transfers from Feb. 8 forward, and those individuals will also have to sign on for a three-year commitment.
Additionally, any new correction officers or those with less than five years of experience will be automatically bumped to $24.93 per hour wages, which Osborne said is conventionally Step 5 in the 10-step pay schedule.
The matter received very little discussion at the legislature’s meeting, though the vote followed a 90-minute executive session. It was not immediately clear if the executive sessions were related to the correction officer legislation or if the vote was held at the end because it was introduced late.
Other News and Notes
- Susan Currie served on the legislature for the first time after she was sworn in. Currie was elected, without an opponent, to replace Henry Granison after his death late last year. Currie, the former Tompkins County Public Library executive director, is representing District 3.
- Ithaca Common Council member George McGonigal stated that the Reimagining Public Safety Special Committee will soon have its final report finished. He joked that he has “already chosen the rail he’ll be run out of town on” as a result of the report.
- Legislator Dan Klein announced that the controversial Second Wind Cottages proposal to expand its footprint in Newfield has changed, from 25 smaller cabins to 12 additional cottages. The new proposal, which had been reported in The Ithaca Voice previously, will go before the Tompkins County Recovery Fund Committee in early March for review.
- Longtime community member Brian Eden was roundly celebrated, with several commenters praising his contributions to renewable energy progress and environmental conservation overall in the county, and Legislature Chair Shawna Black reading a proclamation in his honor. “His grandchildren and all future generations will benefit from Brian’s selfless service,” Black said. Eden then delivered brief remarks as well.
- The 2023–24 Poet Laureate of Tompkins County was named, with Janie E. Bibbie taking the title. An announcement quoted her as saying “I am honored to have the opportunity to encourage members of our community to join me in reading, writing, and sharing poetry,” and Bibbie read a poem titled “Flow” from her most recent book at the meeting.
- Legislator Mike Lane said that there would not be any action taken on the “Red House” in downtown Ithaca at the Facilities and Infrastructure Committee’s February meeting. Any action on demolition, deconstruction, preservation, etc., will be taken at a future meeting, though it sounds like a decision will be made sooner rather than later, so keep an eye out in March.