MAYVILLE – The Chautauqua County Legislature has approved a 2013 budget. During last night’s voting session, lawmakers approved an estimated $63 million spending plan by a vote of 19 to 4 that calls for property tax rate of $9.14 per thousand assessed value. That’s a decrease of $.08 over the current year’s rate.
Prior to voting on the spending plan, lawmakers spent more than two hours discussing amendments to the budget. In all, the panel approved six additional amendments to the revised spending plan that was finalized last week by the Legislature’s Audit and Control committee, reducing the tax levy in that version of the budget by $1,870,000, or $.26 per thousand assessed value.
Several of last night’s amendments increased projections in revenue, including $320,000 in sales tax revenue. Legislator Chuck Nazzaro (D-Jamestown) explained why he felt the increase projection in sales tax was warranted.
“These numbers, in my opinion, are conservative, they really are,” explained Nazzaro, adding, “And I think we owe it to the taxpayer not to underestimate the numbers.”
Lawmakers also increased federal aid through the county Department of Social Services by $250,000, and they decreased employee post-retirement benefits by $1 million and IGT funding for the county home by $250,000.
After approving the amended spending plan, leaders from both parties expressed their view on the process. Majority Leader Larry Barmore (R-Gerry) said that in his mind, it wasn’t the best plan but it was one he could support.
“I am not totally happy with this budget as it has been amended,” Barmore said prior to the actual vote. “However, as I look on things that we discussed this evening – we won some, we lost some. I think the public at large looks to us to work together and to compromise. I’m sure that some people on the other side are as unhappy with what they didn’t get as I am unhappy with what they did get.”
Minority Leader Lori Cornell (D-Jamestown) said she was pleased that lawmakers could find a way to reduce the tax rate.
“Bottom line is we are passing along a tax cut to the people of Chautauqua County by passing along a savings in the budget. That money is theirs and it belongs in their pocket now, not next year and I think we’re doing the right thing.”
The four lawmakers who opposed the spending plan were Republicans Fred Crosscut (Sherman), P.J. Wendel (Lakewood) and Mark Tarbrake (Ellicott) and Democrat Keith Ahlstrom (Dunkirk) who felt it was an irresponsible spending plan.
“All we accomplished in three and a half hours tonight was some smoke and mirrors with the numbers,” Ahlstrom said. “We actually increased spending because the only real change in the budget in the budget was to spend $230,000 in funding for equipment in [the Department of Public Facilities]. Other than that, we were using our fund balance in different places. We used it to decrease the tax rate and, as everybody said tonight, ‘kick the can down the road’ again for future years. This is a false budget for the taxpayers. There are no savings to the taxpayers. We did not do anything about the spending side of the budget.”
A total of $5,241,000 was taken from the county’s unreserved fund balance to help offset a tax increase that at one point was $.18 per thousand higher than the current year’s tax rate. Heading into next year, the county’s undesignated fun balance is now just over $4,000,000 – while it faces a budget gap of an estimated $14,000,000 for 2014.
The 2013 budget will now go before County Executive Greg Edwards for his authorization. He can either sign off on the spending plan or veto it, sending it back to the legislature where it would need 17 votes for an override. Again, it was approved last night by 19 votes. Legislators Bob Duff (R-Sheridan) and William Coughlin (D-Fredonia) were both absent from last night’s meeting.