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SPENDING, TAXES FALL IN BUDGET PLAN

Spending, the tax rate and the amount of money to be raised by property taxes all decreased in the 2002 Chautauqua County budget proposed by County Executive Mark Thomas on Wednesday.

The total amount to be spent is $164.4 million, down $2.9 million from 2001. The tax rate is down 22 cents per $1,000, to $7.51. The property tax levy is $36.2 million, down $1.1 million, or 3 percent. This reduction is due to a payment-in-lieu-of-tax agreement between the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency and Dunkirk Power, owner of the electric generating station in the city.

"Given the lack of a state budget, a struggling national economy and the recent tragedies that have caused further economic uncertainty, the preparation of this budget has been most challenging. I am confident that it appropriately takes those factors into account and establishes the framework for the county to operate within its means in the year ahead," Thomas said.

He also said the budget contains $3.9 million for highway and bridge improvements, the same amount as in 2001.

The budget also maintains the $6.8 million tax-stabilization fund and $10.8 million in undesignated funds, the highest level of reserves since 1996. These have allowed the county to maintain good bond ratings, Thomas said.

Also, the county has eliminated the $11.8 million in operating debt accumulated before he took office on Jan. 1, 1998.

Chautauqua County remains one of the few counties in the region that has not raised the total sales tax rate to 8 percent, and is the only Western New York county that has eliminated the sales tax on moderately priced clothing and footwear.

The budget is subject to review by the County Legislature before adoption.

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