LAWMAKERS PASS BUDGET THAT FALLS UNDER CAP
Homeowners in Chautauqua County will see their property taxes increase by just two-percent next year. That after the Chautauqua County Legislature spent nearly two hours yesterday in budget hearings and another three hours last night in deliberations, before finalizing a budget that brings the tax increase for next year’s budget under the two-percent cap mandated by New York State.
Through a combination of cuts and increasing projected revenue, the panel finalized a spending plan that would result in a property tax increase of 18 cents per thousand assessed value, bringing the tax rate to $9.08 per thousand in 2012. Legislature Chairman Fred Crosscut said it was only through a bipartisan effort that the budget came in below the cap.
“The big thing tonight that I saw is the bipartisan support for the cuts and for the adoption of the budget. We just continued to work away at it tonight and we now have a budget,” Crosscut said, adding, “We’re under the tax cap and I can sit here and say I’m proud of both sides of the isle tonight.”Lawmakers were able to bring the budget down to two-percent by adding five amendments to the revised budget that came out of the panel’s audit and control committee last week. That revised plan called for a property tax increase of 5.66-percent – nearly seven-percent lower than the 12.6-percent originally called for in the county executive’s budget.
Last night the full legislature voted to increase sales tax projections by another $400,000 and also use $400,000 more from the county’s fund balance. In addition, it cut $300,000 in the 2012 contingency fund and another $250,000 in IGT funding from the County Home. Twenty-thousand dollars was also cut by reducing the legislature clerk position to part-time status. The legislature also restored $150,000 to the county airport budget. In all, $1,220,630 in property tax money was removed from the Audit and Control committee’s revised budget, putting the budget under the tax cap by $5,730.
The amended budget passed by a vote of 20 to 5. It will now go before the desk of the county executive, who will either sign off on the spending plan or veto it.
MAJORITY LEADER CALLS BUDGET ‘TOTALLY IRRESPONSIBLE’
One of the lawmakers who voted against the amended spending plan was majority leader Larry Barmore. The Gerry Republican said the spending plan was totally irresponsible, using a major slight of hand to accomplish the goal of staying below a 2 percent property tax increase.
“There’s absolutely no way that we could get under this tax cap without a bunch of smoke and mirrors,” Barmore said prior to voting against the spending plan. “Some of the cuts that we made tonight that were actually cuts will, in the long run, cost us more money than we saved by the cuts that we made. We stole from all our surplus funds. We one-time funded most of the changes in tonight’s budget and that will push probably $10-13 million in additional deficits into next year…. Basically we performed a major slight of hand.”
Jamestown’s Chuck Nazzaro disagreed Barmore’s, saying the amendments to the initial spending plan were based on sound assessments, especially an overall increase of $940,000 in sales tax projections over what the county executive had initially budgeted.
“The numbers aren’t inflated,” Nazzaro said. “We owe to the tax payer to estimate the best we can. It’s not a perfect science. You don’t want to over-estimate, but at the same time you don’t want to under-estimate because if you under-estimate, then you’re passing along a tax increase that should not be there.”
Nazzaro, who sits on the legislature’s audit and control committee, was one of two democrats who provided significant input during the budget deliberations. The other being minority leader Rudy Mueller, who was persistent in trying to find ways to reduce the property tax increase.
SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT GETS $500,000 IN RESTORATIONS
Not everyone walked away from last night’s vote feeling relieved. Chautauqua County Sheriff Joe Gerace saw funding for his department slashed by nearly $1.3 million in the county executive’s proposed budget. While the legislature restored $500,000 of that money, Gerace reiterated during the public hearing that it wouldn’t be nearly enough for his department to provide adequate public safety in 2012. Despite the Sheriff’s plea for full restoration, lawmakers were committed to only restoring $500,000. Legislator Barmore did introduce an amendment to eliminate the restoration, but it was voted down 21 to 4.
ST. SUSAN’S CENTER TO HOLD
The St. Susan Center in Jamestown will be holding their “Volunteer & Community Open House” night this evening. The Center will also be honoring their many volunteers and handing out various awards to those community members who sacrifice their time and energy to make the Center a special place. Special guest tonight will be Senator Cathy Young.
Opening its doors in 1984, The St. Susan Center soup kitchen has been providing nutritional meals everyday to community members who face various challenges.
The Center also serves as a safe haven for the physically, mentally and emotionally challenged individuals in the community who feel isolated.
WOODSONGS PERFORMANCE TONIGHT AT THE LABYRINTH
Don’t forget that a new episode of the Woodsongs Coffeehouse Radio Hour with Ken Hardley will be recorded tonight at the Labyrinth Press Co. in Jamestown. Musical guests tonight include No Outlet and John Latini. The show begins at 6:45 p.m. and will wrap up at about 8:30 p.m. There is no cost to attend. It will be broadcast a week from tonight right here on WRFA.