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Opposition to property tax cap is adamant ; Unless state offers mandate relief

Cattaraugus County legislators, who have received budget estimates of the impact of the state proposal to cap property taxes, plan to continue opposing the idea unless the state provides mandate relief as well.

During a meeting Wednesday, County Administrator Jack Searles outlined the impact of the cap on the county budget, noting that a 2 percent tax levy cap would restrict next year's property tax levy increase to $950,000.

Searles estimates that in 2012, the budget will increase by $2.5 million to meet 10 state-mandated programs. The county also expects a $1.5 million increase in Medicaid and having to pay $800,000 more in pensions.

Added to that, Searles said, will be $2.4 million for increases in salaries, health insurance and debt payments.

Searles estimated that to meet the 2 percent cap on increasing the tax levy, the county budget will have to be cut by $3.9 million.

The current tax levy is 3 percent higher than in 2010 and the average increase over the last five years has been 4.7 percent.

Searles has been meeting with county department heads asking them to consider more cuts in their budgets in anticipation of the new state budget, which is due April 1.

"It is time for us to now be looking at programs and services," said Searles, as the county collects more information on the cap while preparing to meet with state officials early next month.

During a brief business session, legislators approved several appointments, naming former Olean legislator Joseph K. Eade to the Southern Tier Extension Railway Authority through Sept. 12, 2013.

They also appointed coroner's physicians through Dec. 31, 2012, naming Mark LeVaughn, Diane Vertes and Fazlollah Loghmanee.

Earlier this week, Searles noted the county has received nearly $900,000 more in sales taxes than budget estimates for 2010.

Searles said the county's share of the 3 percent sales tax was $14.7 million, or $480,511 more than the amount budgeted of $14.2 million.

The county also collects an additional 1 percent sales tax for county road fund projects. For the last quarter of 2010, the county received $9.1 million, which is $408,083 more than the budgeted amount of $8.7 million.

Searles attributed rising Christmas sales to the surge in the final quarter. He noted figures for the first two quarters were less than anticipated.

For the 2011 budget, Searles said the sales tax estimates were kept at last year's levels

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