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RISING TAXES BEMOANED, BUT FEW OTHER OPTIONS SEEN

Although taxes are certain to increase in more than 50 percent of Cattaraugus County communities in 1999, legislators say they've done all they can to pare back the $124 million tentative budget.

A vote by the Legislature is scheduled Tuesday after a hearing at 3 p.m., when the public can comment on the spending plan and how it will impact property taxes.

Work began on the budget last month and continued through last Thursday, when the Finance Committee made final recommendations.

The bottom line is a proposed tax levy of $26,326,660, which is up 4.6 percent from this year. It reflects a decrease of 2.53 percent in the average full-value tax rate of $10.93, down from $11.21 this year.

Tax rates still are subject to small adjustments as the result of final budget changes and various assessments. As it stands now, however, the budget shows a 7.4 percent increase in the tax rate in the City of Olean and a 2.2 percent reduction in the City of Salamanca.

In 18 of the county's 32 towns, the rate will rise, and in 14 towns, decrease.

In the Town of New Albion, the tax rate will rise 12.8 percent. Assistant Minority Leader Elliott Ellis, a Democrat who lives in New Albion, said his phone has been ringing all weekend.

"I still feel it's too high," Ellis said. "And some others do too. But I don't know where to cut anymore."

When asked if he will vote for the budget, Ellis said that if the spending plan fails to pass, the tentative budget, prepared initially by the budget officer, would become effective and that plan proposes an 8.8 percent tax increase.

Democrats plan to caucus Tuesday afternoon in an attempt to come up with some last-minute changes.

"I've had calls from the public saying it's too high," Ellis said. "But as Democrats we're in the minority and I don't know where to cut anymore."

Assistant Republican Majority Leader Catharine M. Young, R-Olean, who was recently elected to the state Assembly representing the 149th District, sees little room to maneuver.

"I'm very disappointed," she said. "We've cut over $1 million and there's not a lot more we can do."

Mrs. Young noted 72 percent of the budget is directed at state-mandated programs.

"County governments are under a great deal of pressure," she said. "When I get to Albany I'm going to work to try and get them some relief."

Jon Baker, R-Olean, echoed the frustration.

"I'm not happy with it. I hope something can surface by then. No one likes to see that much of an increase."

Although reluctant, Baker said he, too, will vote for the budget.

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