MAYVILLE – Acting Chautauqua County Executive PJ Wendel presented his 2021 executive budget to the Chautauqua County Legislature Wednesday night in Mayville.
Wendel presented a $260.5 million spending plan that – despite challenges with COVID-19 – maintains the current level of county services while also calling for no tax increase. In fact Wendel’s proposal calls for a county property tax rate of $8.41 per thousand dollars assessed value. That’s slightly lower than the current year’s tax rate of $8.46 per thousand. But it’s also still higher than the 2021 tax cap, due to inflation.
“This is five cents below this year’s tax rate, but still 12 cents above the tax rate needed to stay under the tax cap. Lowering the tax rate while remaining over the tax cap is a very unique situation. However, you can see the proposed tax rate is far below the $10.11 tax rate that is adjusted for inflation, since 2011,” Wendel pointed out. Wendel also said that a low rate of inflation, which is used as part of the state’s tax cap formula for each municipality, was a reason for the tax cap seeing a drop for next year.
Wendel said that the growth in property valuation is a driving force for keeping the tax rate relatively flat for next year. The total growth in the tax levy for the county is $2.2 million, bringing to total projected amount of property taxes to be collected in 2021 to $66.43 million.
Meanwhile, Wendel’s budget also keeps other revenue streams – like sales and occupancy tax – at the same level as this year. And the budget also does not include any use of the county’s undesignated fund balance, which is already nearly at the lowest recommended level of just over 5% of the total budget. For next year, the county executive is anticipating sales tax revenue to come in at $74.9 million.
With the budget presented, the county legislature will now review the numbers through various committee meetings starting the first full week of October.
The legislature’s audit and control committee, which is responsible for the oversight of county finances, is chaired by Jamestown Democrat Chuck Nazzaro. He said the budget presentation is a good start, but he does want to take a closer look at some of the projections, including sales tax.
“The county executive is keeping the 2021 sales tax at the same amount as what was adopted in 2020. I must mention the 2020 budget already included a 2% increase from the 2019 budget. And our sales tax revenues right now are running at about 11% below what we had budgeted. We’ve had a good pickup in Internet sales and that has generated additional sales tax, but I am concerned the sales tax projections are overly optimistic,” Nazzaro told WRFA after Wednesday’s meeting.
However, Wendel said he is optimistic those projections are accurate because while there was a slump through the middle of this year, the number is starting to see a rebound.
“The belief is we will start to rebound. We’ve seen some significant increases in sales tax revenue since the businesses started to reopen and we started to get the economy reopened here in Western New York and the rest of New York State, so we feel confident, although conservative and, to Chuck Nazzaro’s credit ‘cautiously optimisitic,’ but we feel what we’ve seen so far is that we’ve been able to open back up and obtain those revenues that we projected for the 2020 budget,” Wendel said.
Nazzaro also said he’s not sure a slight decrease in the sales tax rate is worth pursuing, considering some property owners in the county have had a difficult time paying their tax bills this year and that will likely continue into next year, creating a shortfall in property tax revenue, regardless of what the tax rate is. As a result, he said it may not be prudent to bring that number down lower than where it currently at, even if only by 5 cents per thousand assessed value.
The 2021 Tentative Budget is available on the Budgets page of the Finance Department website at: chqgov.com/finance/Budgets.
A copy of the 2021 Tentative Budget Presentation that was presented by Chautauqua County Executive PJ Wendel at last night’s County Legislature meeting is available on the County Executive’s page of the County website at: chqgov.com/county-executive/County-Executive.