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PROPOSED BUDGET BOOSTS SPENDING BY 8.6%
WHILE CALLING FOR 4-CENT REDUCTION IN TAX RATE

The full-value tax rate for Chautauqua County would be reduced by 4 cents to $8.21 under a $152.3 million budget proposed by County Executive Mark W. Thomas.

Spending for next year would increase by 8.6 percent to $152.3 million under the plan submitted Saturday to the County Legislature.

Thomas credited higher interest and earnings income, a slight increase in state aid and local sales-tax revenue, plus money from the tobacco settlement for keeping the property tax levy frozen at $37.6 million -- the third consecutive year.

The budget also would reduce the county's accumulated operating debt another $1.3 million for the second consecutive year.

It calls for contining the county's commitment of $3.7 million a year in capital funds for investments in highway and bridge improvement and maintenance programs.

The county will receive $3.5 million in tobacco settlement funds. From this amount, Thomas proposes spending $500,000 for unanticipated increases in state-mandated Medicaid costs, $1.1 million for other state-mandated local costs in human services, $1.2 million for highway and bridge capital programs, $500,000 to eliminate part of the deficit in the county's self-funded health insurance plan, $100,000 to establish the Youth Bureau's smoking prevention program and $100,000 for additional funding for local public transportation services as mandated under the Medicaid program.

Thomas also allocated $6.2 million to the Tax Stabilization Fund set aside $8.3 million in undesignated funds to maintain the county's high bond ratings issued by Standard & Poor and Moody's Investor Services.

"The budget recognizes the property-tax overburden faced by Chautauqua County's homeowners, businesses and farm families," Thomas wrote in his letter to the Legislature.

It also "establishes a solid foundation for economic growth and prosperity in the coming decade and the new century that is at hand," the letter said.

Thomas proposes budget allocations for six departments: comptroller, $134,000, up 5.4 percent; county clerk, $1.4 million, up 6.1 percent; Legislature, $2.4 million, up 2.4 percent; district attorney, $952,000, up 7.1 percent; and sheriff, including the county jail, $13.3 million, up 7.6 percent.

Legislature Chairman Michael Bobseine, D-Fredonia, said Saturday the Legislature will begin its review Monday.

The Legislature will appoint an 11-member budget reconciliation committee when it meets Wednesday. The chairmen of the five standing committees and the ranking minority members of the committees will join Bobseine on this committee.

By Oct. 13, the committee will bring its recommendations to the budget conference committee, a committee of the entire Legislature. That committee will make recommendations to the full Legislature at 2 p.m. Oct. 27.

A public hearing will be scheduled for that afternoon. The budget is expected to be discussed and adopted at the regular meeting afterward.

Bobseine said a budget must be adopted before Dec. 1.

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