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Legislature Chairman Rhinehart getting his feet wet

Newly elected chairman talks openly about sales tax revenue, county budget and more

On Jan. 4, Onondaga County Legislator James Rhinehart was elected by his fellow county leaders to be their figurehead.

Rhinehart, who has been in county government for five years, was voted in unanimously by all 19 legislators to sit as the county's chairman for the next two years. The vote took place during the legislature's annual organizational meeting in January.

"I understand that hasn't happened too many times in the past," Rhinehart said lightheartedly about the full legislature's vote in his favor. "It's a good sign, I think."

What does a chairman do?

The new role for Rhinehart is a welcome one -- and one that will keep him on his toes.

Aside from preparing for and attending general session once a month, Rhinehart is also charged with making appointments to outside committees that oversee such things as the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra, Beaver Lake and the Onondaga County Soil and Water Conservation District. Overall, there are 27 of those appointments.

Rhinehart began his chairmanship by appointing committee members, and decreasing the number of board members and size of program committees. For instance, Rhinehart reduced the number of people in each committee from seven to five people, except for the Ways and Means Committee and a consolidated committee that oversees facilities and libraries.

Another modification brought on by the changing of chairmen was addendums to the legislative rules, an example being how many times a legislator can speak on the same issue.

"Now everybody gets two bites at the apple," Rhinehart said.

The chairman's job is also to act as liaison between county Executive Joanne Mahoney's office and the legislature. Additionally, Rhinehart now supervises a staff of five people and, along with the full legislature, is tasked with administering a $1.1 billion budget.

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