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In a party-line vote, the Chautauqua County Legislature on Wednesday approved a $164.4 million budget for 2002 that differs little from one proposed by Democratic County Executive Mark Thomas.

The vote was 13-10, with two Republicans -- Lance Spicer and Jay Gould -- absent. The spending plan features a full-value tax rate of $7.51 per $1,000, a decrease of 22 cents.

Thomas said he was pleased the budget was adopted with only minor alterations. But he also cautioned about "unsettling" times emerging from Sept. 11.

"I believe that we have a sound budget in place now, and one that we can make adjustments to along the way if we need to. And that's what I designed and I sent to the Legislature. I met their goals," he said.

The goals included keeping the tax levy flat. Thomas' proposal actually cut $1.1 million from the amount to be raised locally by taxes, to $36.2 million. Thomas also noted this is the fourth consecutive year he has delivered a tax decrease, for a cumulative tax-rate drop of 15 percent.

Republicans charged the plan is an "election-year" budget with unrealistic revenue projections.

Minority Leader James Caflisch, R-Clymer, said that is especially apparent in sales tax and jail-revenue projections.

"Based on the information that's coming back . . . if we don't meet those anticipated revenues, we've got some real problems, and that's certainly the case at the county jail," he said.

Sheriff Joseph Gerace recently said the county has received an extension on its variances to house 72 prisoners above the county jail's maximum until early next year -- if there is significant movement on upgrading and expanding the facility.

Caflisch said that if the variances are lost, the county could lose close to $800,000 in revenue earned from housing federal prisoners.

The minority leader also wanted to cut anticipated sales tax revenue by $500,000, based mainly on the downturn in the economy.

He said this is "reasonable," based on what other counties in the region have done.

Majority Leader Keith Ahlstrom, D-Dunkirk, said the only major changes in the budget involved shifts of money, including $330,000 from a capital reserve account to pay for the next phase of the Planning Department's digital mapping project. Another $50,000 was moved from the appropriated fund balance to the county's rabies vaccine program.

On another matter, the Legislature approved increasing the salaries of four elected management officials, including the county executive. The measure won bipartisan support.

Two salary increases are effective in January. The executive's pay will rise from $80,000 to $85,000, and the clerk's from $47,000 to $53,000. In January 2003, the sheriff's annual pay will go from $65,000 to $72,500. The comptroller's salary will rise from $46,000 to $49,000 in January 2004.

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