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GOP LEGISLATORS CALL BUDGET'S FIGURES 'SHAKY'

The 2002 budget proposed by Chautauqua County Executive Mark Thomas is "an election-year budget balanced on shaky figures," Legislator Alvin Crowe, R-Silver Creek, said Tuesday.

Minority Leader James Caflisch, R-Clymer, and Legislators Richard Bradigan, R-Forestville, and Richard C. Babbage, R-Bemus Point, joined Crowe during a news conference Tuesday to discuss the problems they found with the budget.

The $164.4 million budget is expected to be voted on at today's County Legislature meeting.

Babbage said the budget has cut the local share for road and bridge projects by 62 percent. Bradigan said the Sheriff's Department budget has increased the local share of taxes from $4 million in 1998 to $10.7 million in 2001, a 262 percent increase.

They also said no funds were provided for the rabies bait program, a computer mapping program or changes to the county's court facilities.

Thomas said later Tuesday that the Legislature can add funds for the first two programs.

The legislators also said that the state will determine what will be needed for the court system, and that the county will need to comply.

On the revenue side, the legislators questioned the $19 million figure for sales tax revenue.

"The Rockefeller Institute in Albany predicted a 5 percent decrease in sales tax," added former County Executive John Glenzer, who attended the news conference.

The lawmakers said they did not know the full effect of the loss of local sales tax revenue since the county eliminated the tax on moderately priced clothing and footwear. They said that the estimate of sales tax revenue should be decreased by $500,000, and that $760,000 should be eliminated from the sheriff's budget for housing federal prisoners.

The new county charter was blamed for the lack of accountability for the budget process, because departments are given lump sums and the discretion to spend the funds within limits. Formerly, the Legislature had a Finance Committee that reviewed the budget on a line-item basis. Caflisch and the other legislators want to return to legislative oversight of the budget.

"The new charter goes too far in granting considerable autonomy to the various departments and elected officials who have for the most part expanded their domains, resulting in a bigger and costlier government," the legislators said in a statement.

GOP leaders in the past week said the proposed budget left out some items so Thomas could have a tax-rate decrease.

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