Following a previous meeting on June 30th encompassing a series of presentations from County staff and an initial discussion on the American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds set to be received by Tompkins County, a second meeting of the Expanded Budget Committee (Committee of the whole Legislature) was held to further examine Legislators’ stated priorities for the funding and consider a resolution to earmark a portion of the funds toward capital spending through County operations.
Committee Chairwoman Deborah Dawson (D-Lansing) kicked off the meeting proposing that the number to be set aside for cash for capital be decided before additional discussion take place. The County may use a portion or the whole amount of the ARP funds for County operations through replacing revenue lost during the pandemic, one facet of County operations is the Capital Plan for infrastructure and Dawson’s proposal is to use some of these funds as cash toward the Capital Plan.
Legislators debated the best use of the funds, including the approved uses outlined in the federal act. Several Legislators argued for the County to accept the entire amount allocated by the ARP Act (~$20 million) as replacement of lost revenues, while several suggested that these funds should be more immediately and thoughtfully used to meet the community’s needs following the pandemic. Legislators Leslie Schill (D-Ithaca) and Anne Koreman (D-Ulysses) shared their perspective that these funds should be used to respond to the immediate needs of the community highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Part of the argument for using a majority or the whole for replacement of lost revenue and cash for capital is that it would allow future flexibility in spending without the near-term need to raise taxes.
Following debate on the best use for the funds, Legislator Dawson reminded the Legislature that the intent of the advocacy for these funds over the past year was to provide unrestricted aid to local governments, adding, “What I want is to situate Tompkins County to be fiscally healthy and sustainable into the future so that whatever needs arise we’re able to respond to community needs … I don’t think that the law weights any one of the potential community needs over the other.”
Legislator Mike Lane (D-Dryden) moved a resolution to use 100% of the ARP funds as replacement for lost County revenues, which passed 9-3, with Legislators Granison (D-Ithaca), Robertson (D-Dryden) and Koreman (D-Ulysses) opposed, and Legislator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne (D-Ithaca) excused (Legislator Schill (D-Ithaca) joined the meeting virtually and could not vote). Following that resolution, Legislator Rich John (D-Ithaca) moved that 75% of the ARP funds be set aside for cash for capital to address County infrastructure needs, which was seconded by Legislator Shawna Black (D-Ithaca) and approved 11-1 (Legislator Granison dissenting).
There was significant discussion on the potential use of a portion of the existing fund balance that the County has amassed over recent years to address additional needs to be agreed upon by Legislators in upcoming meetings. Legislators plan to discuss this following a more substantial conversation on fund balance to take place during the regular Legislature meeting on the 20th.