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LEGISLATURE OKS SPENDING PLAN DESPITE JOB CUTS

The Cattaraugus County Legislature voted 16-4 Wednesday to accept the recommended 2005 budget of $171.2 million.

Legislators ignored pleas to save the jobs of 22 nursing home workers, but at the last minute halved to $4,500 a reduction in the Chautauqua/Cattaraugus Library contract.

The Legislature previously trimmed department requests and also reduced the tax levy to $37,843,000 by increasing anticipated revenues from several sources -- diverting another $500,000 from the fund balance and adding $46,000 to the $1.3 million expected from the tobacco settlement.

Legislators also count on receiving $1.4 million in new revenue from a .75 percent sales tax increase, to 9 percent. Another $350,000 was factored in from casino-related revenues that could arrive by the end of 2005.

"Nobody is happy with the 8.9 percent (increase in the tax levy) and nobody is dancing about our sales tax. The budget is grim and it is austere and it's the best we can do. But it does not represent the Grinch that stole Christmas," said Legislator Paul J. Shafer, R-Olean, before voting in support of the plan.

The budget passage was preceded by a public hearing, when Local CSEA President Donna Vickman asked legislators to cut costs through attrition.

Paula Mohr, president of the CSEA supervisory unit, warned of "major repercussions" due to the nursing home layoffs. She predicted additional costs because of overtime, worsening employee morale and a growing burden on Medicaid services required for the unemployed workers.

Legislator David J. Anastasia, D-Olean, asked if the nursing home's level of service will suffer if part-time workers take over for certified nursing staffers scheduled for elimination.

"There are no guarantees in life," said nursing homes Director Thomas F. Schobert, whose suggested job cuts are primarily in the nonpatient care areas.

Some of the four legislators voting in opposition to the budget cited misgivings about the addition of anticipated sales tax and casino revenues to the plan.

"It's not a given," said Linda L. Witte, D-Olean, also faulting legislators with keeping the pressure off state lawmakers by increasing the sales tax. "It's getting New York State off the hook," she added.

Michael F. McLaughlin, D-Olean, told the legislators the county's budget problems are created by the "dysfunctional" state government.

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