MAYVILLE – The Chautauqua County Legislature has unanimously approved a 2018 budget that contains no tax increase.
During last night’s meeting, lawmakers approved a revised $234 million spending plan that contains a slight tax decrease of $0.04 per thousand, bringing the new tax rate to $8.44 per thousand assessed value for 2018. That means for property valued at $100,000, the county tax will be $4 lower in 2018 than in 2017.
Legislator Pierre Chagnon (R-Bemus Point), who chairs the legislature’s Audit and Control Committee, said it was a group effort to bring the tax rate down, compared to what had been presented in County Executive Vince Horrigan’s (R-Bemus Point) initial spending plan.
“It was a tough mountain we had to climb this year, I said that when the county executive put out his tentative budget. It was a ten cent increase in the tax rate and we were hoping to have a fourth year of a tax decrease,” Chagnon said following the meeting. “With the help of the chairman of the legislature, we let all the legislators know this was going to take team work and everyone had to come to the pump on this one, everyone’s got to be part of a solution here. So every member of the legislature contributed to this. We had even had department heads coming to us and saying, ‘I have a suggestion on how you can reduce my budget.’ Unbelievable. It was such a team effort this year and we climbed the mountain and we went over the top.”
Horrigan, who is not running for reelection this year, said that while his initial budget did call for a tax increase of 2 percent, he’s comfortable with what lawmakers did to finalize the budget and will sign off on it.
“I didn’t want for my last budget to submit a big property tax cut that I can ride out of town with and say, ‘Yay I did that.’ And leave it is some sort of last win for me. No. This has got to be something that is good for this county for the next five years and this budget will keep us financially stable with sufficient reserves through the year 2022. That has been my biggest goal,” Horrigan said.
The biggest adjustment lawmakers made to bring the spending down was a $350,000 cut in safety net funding – which is used to help families in need. Lawmakers agreed that fewer county residents were in need of that fund and as a result, felt it could be adjusted.
The county sheriff’s office also took a $235,000 hit in its budget, with $100,000 being eliminated from the jail budget.
Chautauqua County Sheriff Joe Gerace said was disappointed the funding was removed, especially for the county jail which has seen chronic over-crowding in recent years, but said he’ll do his best to make it work.
“Hopefully all the work that we are trying to put toward reforming the criminal justice system and rightsizing the county jail, having the people in there that truly belong there and making sure that we move others to state prison more rapidly will help, but it’s going to take the effort of a lot of people. Hopefully that will solve our issues and our budget will be okay. But I am concerned with unexpected board-out fees,” Gerace said.
According to the sheriff, the county pays $85 per day for every county inmate that has to be sent to a jail outside of the county due to exceeding maximum occupancy in the county jail.
It was the fourth year in a row that lawmakers were able to vote on a budget that actually included a tax decrease. That’s partly due to the sale of the Chautauqua County Home in 2014, along with an increase in the County Sales Tax in 2015. This year, the county also sold the south county office building, providing a one-time revenue generator of $1.7 million.