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State mandates will eat up Chautauqua County's $3.5 million tobacco-settlement payment in the 2000 budget year, county Finance Director Robert Beckman said Sunday.

State mandates consume $117.1 million of the county's proposed $152.3 million budget, or 77 percent, said Beckman, who noted the state budget finally approved in August added new mandates while actually cutting reimbursements for other mandates already in place.

"The county has either some control or no control over those expenditures," he said.

The cost of these mandates will rise $7.8 million, or 7 percent, he added. Of this amount, the county has "no control" over $5 million, he said.

The proposed budget, which was released by Chautauqua County Executive Mark W. Thomas Saturday, freezes the tax levy at $37.6 million. It also cuts the tax rate by 4 cents to $8.21 per $1,000 of true value. Thomas said the plan protects the county's financial position by maintaining strong balances in the Tax Stabilization and Undesignated Fund reserves.

The county's bond rating is strong, Beckman said. The rating agencies -- Moody's Investor Services and Standard & Poor -- want to see "clear potential for economic vitality and employment growth" to further improve the bond rating, he added.

The financial plan also calls for a program to improve industrial parks to be financed through budgeted funds and bonds. Beckman said rating agencies would look at this project favorably, "as a commitment to create jobs."

The plan calls for $9.5 million in long-term bond financing, or 73 percent of the $13.1 million in new investment for roads, water, sewer and other site work at the county's business and industrial development locations.

The Tax Stabilization Reserve Fund balance stood at $6.2 million at the end of 1998 and is expected to approach $6.5 million by the end of this year, he said. There was an $8.3 million balance in the Undesignated Fund as of last Dec. 31.

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