Cattaraugus County lawmakers Tuesday voted along party lines to narrowly approved a $123.4 million budget that will increase the tax levy by more than 4 percent but will cut taxes for many county residents.
Tax rates were barely changed from last week following several weeks of review by legislative committees and final recommendations from the Finance Committee.
Minority Leader Charlotte McLaughlin, D-Olean said "The budget is too high for us to vote for it. It needs additional cuts."
As a result, Democrats withheld their support while the GOP majority gave its approval. The budget was adopted 11-9. Majority Leader Mark S. Williams, R-Hinsdale, was absent and is on vacation in Florida.
In 18 of the county's towns and the City of Olean the tax rate will rise; in 14 towns and the City of Salamanca, it will decrease.
During a public hearing only two came to speak about the budget.
Jeanne Giambrone of Napoli told lawmakers: "I've come to point out there are some things you people may not be in touch with out in the real world. Farmers today are faced with higher property taxes . . . and could use some technical assistance. This is the first place the county administrator cuts when they should be getting an increase."
With obvious reference to legislators efforts to pare back funding for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cattaraugus County, an advocate for the farming community, Mrs. Giambrone said "Any agency which works for the betterment of the people in mind is cut from your budget."
The new budget contains a tax levy of $26,326,660 with an average full value tax rate of $10.93 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.
But the actual rates vary wildly. The tax rate will decrease by 3.6 percent in Carrollton but increase by 18.7 percent in Dayton. Varying equalization rates account for the wide differences in tax rates.
Amid questions from legislators about how to narrow the tax rate gap, Real Property Tax Director Bernard Miller said towns should do a full revaluation of property every three years.
"Keep the market values current," Miller said.
In the City of Olean taxes will go from $95.65 to $102.77 per $1,000 of assessment. "The equalization rate is killing us," said Joseph K. Eade, D-Olean.
Miller responded, "The city needs to do a revaluation."
In the City of Salamanca the rate will decrease from $38.06 to $37.25 per $1,000 of assessment.
Carmen Vecchiarella, D-Salamanca, who is also mayor, said he sees no need to consider revaluation as long as the tax rate "went down a few points."
Vecchiarella said Democrats decided in their caucus that if the increase on the tax levy was reduced to around 3 percent some Democrats would have thrown their support for the budget. As it is now the levy, the amount to be raised through property taxes, will go up 4.6 percent.