MAYVILLE – The Chautauqua County Legislature has approved a budget for 2014.
After an hour-and-a-half of deliberation on Wednesday night, lawmakers approved the estimated $229 million spending plan by a vote of 16 to 7. The amended budget slashed spending from County Executive Greg Edwards’ proposed spending plan by an estimated $1.3 million. It also reduced the proposed tax levy to $62.5 million dollars, which will result in a property tax rate of $9.13 per thousand assessed value. That’s a 2 cent decrease over the current year’s rate of $9.15 per thousand.
IGT FUNDING DEBATE
Lawmakers spent nearly half-an-hour discussing the Intergovernmental (IGT) program fund for the Chautauqua County Home. In his executive budget, Edwards had proposed that the county earmark $1,050,000 for the IGT, which would result in the federal government providing a dollar-for-dollar match to help fund the county home operations. However, lawmakers voted to remove all the IGT funding from the budget. Legislator Timothy Hoyer (D-Jamestown) made an effort to have it fully restored but that was rejected, as was a later amendment by legislator Keith Ahlstrom (D-Dunkirk) to provide $250,000 in IGT Funding.
OFFICE FOR THE AGING DEBATE
The issue of providing the Chautauqua County Office for the Aging (OFA) an additional $500,000 in 2014 was also heavily debated and lasted for nearly an hour.
In his executive budget, Edwards called for an increase in funding for OFA of half a million dollars. However, Bemus Point legislator and Republican candidate for county executive Vince Horrigan felt that was too much and instead proposed giving the department $250,000 increase, saying it would be a fair compromise while also ensuring more elderly residents will be cared for.
“By providing this funding, we’ll be able to acommplish Meals on Wheels nutrition, we’ll be able to look at our home healthcare,” Horrigan said. “And all of these services that will be provided are actually contracted directly out, providing jobs in our community. but most importantly keeping seniors in their home where we will not have to expand further funding in medicaid savings where they will not have to expand further funding in medicaid savings should they have to go into a nursing home.”
However, Ahlstrom – who was in favor of keeping the IGT funding in the budget – didn’t think it was right for the county to give any additional funding to OFA. He accused Horrigan and several other republicans of supporting more funding for area seniors in order to win more votes for the upcoming election.
“On a macro level, Mr Horrigan and [Larry] Barmore – and I believe I heard [Mark] Tarbrake say he supports this funding – they are against these programs,” Ahlstrom said. “This is what we hear on a daily basis is wrong with this country. But they will sit here for the sake of maybe getting a couple of votes, or because it is local, and say it is a good program. If it’s not a good program on the national level, it’s not a good program on the local level.”
Legislator George Borello (R-Silver Creek) defended the decision to provide more funding for area seniors, saying that the $250,000 was important and needed to provide an essesntial service to a group of county residents.
“I have a hard time supporting $500,000 because ultimately taxes are the big issue here,” Borello said. “People are leaving this county not because they can’t get services. It’s because they can’t afford their taxes. It’s because they cannot find jobs. I would be in favor of a lower amount, because I do believe these are essential services. But at the same time, it is not anywhere near the support of the IGT fund. ”
In the end, the final amended budget included the $250,000 increase for the Office for the Aging – which was only half of what was proposed in the executive’s budget.
The budget will now go to county executive Greg Edwards for his consideration. He can either sign off on it or veto any of the changes made in the legislator’s final approved version.