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In a 13 to 11 party-line vote Wednesday, the Chautauqua County Legislature approved a $145 million budget for 1997 that cuts the tax levy by 3 percent and the full-value property tax rate, which was $9.73 this year, by 6.4 percent.

Minority Democrats sought to make more significant cuts in a package proposed by their caucus. Minority Leader Jane Fagerstrom, D-Jamestown, would have cut the tax levy by 7.4 percent and the full-value tax rate by 10.7 percent.

The main component of Ms. Fagerstrom's plan was to reduce a tax stabilization fund by $3 million and use that money to pay down the county's debt.

"We have a basic philosophical difference with the Republican majority. Tax stabilization is hoarding money. Paying down the debt is more responsible," Ms. Fagerstrom said.

Her argument was backed by Joseph Trusso, D-Jamestown, who said "a tax stabilization fund is static. The money just stays there until taxes climb by more than 5 percent. We have a windfall $16.8 million surplus. Part of that should go to pay off the county's debt."

Finance Committee Chairman Robert Butcher, R-Forestville, said: "Here we are in Chautauqua County arguing over the size of our tax cut. We should feel fortunate that we are able to make this 3 percent cut while other counties around us are being forced to raise taxes."

County Executive Andrew Goodell said: "This budget will provide us with the proper reserve funds the county needs and keep our spending in line with where it should be."

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