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County lawmakers discuss budget as locals rally for living wage

Members of Cornell Organization for Labor Action (COLA) participate in a rally for a living wage outside the Tompkins County Legislature chambers Tuesday, September 17, 2013./Pete Blanchard

County lawmakers discuss budget as locals rally for living wage

Tompkins County lawmakers have received the recommended 2014 county budget.

The budget includes a 3.5 percent increase in the tax levy and, if passed, would result in an increase of $21 for the average county homeowner.

While the last 5 years have been marked by rising pension and health care costs—which are the biggest drains on the county budget—it appears as though the county is getting some relief from the state and federal government.

County administrator Joe Mareane, who is tasked with crafting the budget, says it’s a welcome sign of relief.

Mareane says following the great recession, the county was forced to keep making cuts, but is now beginning to level out.

“We’ve reduced the size of government over the past few years, and now we believe we are at a pretty good place, and we want to maintain where we are,” Mareane said. “We think people need the services we deliver, and we don’t want to diminish those services, but we’re not going to be rebuilding to the levels that we achieved prior to the recession.”

The county is expected to get some Medicaid reinforcement through the Affordable Care Act.

More than 50 residents rally for living wage

While county lawmakers were getting briefed on the county budget, dozens of people attended a rally in support of a living wage for all employees of Tompkins County.

The county pays the majority of its employees of a living wage, or roughly $12 dollars an hour, but many county employees working as contracted labor are paid below that rate.

Pete Meyers, Coordinator of the Tompkins County Workers Center, says the county should allocate funding in the 2014 budget to ensure all county employees are paid a living wage.

“These workers that are making less than a living wage doing county business are really subsidizing the rest of the workers that are making a living wage,” Meyers said.

Meyers says many families require public assistance because they are paid sub-par wages, and county residents end up paying higher taxes as a result.

Meyers says the workers center will continue to push for a living wage for all county employees.

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