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Closing Mount View, other costs make tax cut unlikely, officials say

Even though Niagara County finished in the black last year and increased its unappropriated reserves to $21.7 million, county leaders do not advocate a property tax cut for next year.

County Manager Gregory D. Lewis said he first wants more reforms in county government.

"To bring that tax down, we have to eliminate some more of the government services," Lewis said. "The Mount View closing is an important step."

The cost of shutting down the Mount View Health Facility, the county-owned nursing home, is the biggest short-term reason not to cut taxes, Lewis said.

In a grant application last week, the county asked the state for $19.2 million to help cover the $28.8 million estimated cost of closing the facility. Lewis said the county probably will not receive the full $19.2 million.

"We'll probably have to use the fund balance over the next several years to deal with that," Lewis said.

Asked in a telephone interview if he would advocate a tax cut, Legislature Chairman Clyde L. Burmaster, R-Ransomville, said: "It's a little premature to say that. We're only halfway through the year."

His position, he said, remains the same as at the start of this year: The county should keep taxes unchanged next year.

"You're generally in sound fiscal condition," Thomas Malecki of Drescher & Malecki, the county's outside auditor, reported Tuesday to the County Legislature's Administration Committee. "Your general and highway funds are strong, and your water and sewer funds are very strong."

The surplus equals 8.9 percent of last year's spending.

Legislator John D. Ceretto, R-Lewiston, asked when would it be high enough to safely cut taxes.

But Malecki wasn't going to offer political advice.

"The answer lies in where this Legislature feels comfortable," he said, suggesting a look at projected results later this year before making that call.

Last year, the figures show the county took in $253.1 million in revenue, $7 million more than it spent.

Malecki listed the only dark clouds on the fiscal horizon as outlays for closing Mount View and for capping and monitoring the county's four landfills.

Because of its operating deficits, Mount View, which was supposed to be self-sufficient, is unlikely to repay the $1.9 million it owes the county's general fund, he noted.

As for the landfills, the projected long-term tab is $10 million over 20 years.

State aid is expected to pay much of that.

Also Tuesday, the committee approved borrowing $4.67 million to pay for this year's capital projects.

Budget Director Daniel R. Huntington said the 20-year bonds will cost about $375,000 a year in principal and interest payments.

The county will borrow $1 million to plan and design the proposed Public Works Department garage and $1.5 million to cover similar costs for the proposed county office campuses.

The package also includes almost $1.5 million for road repairs and $211,000 for bridge repairs, plush $487,000 for new vehicles and heavy equipment.


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