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11-4 VOTE PASSES BUDGET WITH TAX INCREASE OF 6.5%

Allegany County legislators Monday voted, 11-4, to adopt the county's budget for 2003, with a tax increase of 6.5 percent.

County Administrator John E. Margeson said the average tax increase across the county would be 37 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, to $11.24, compared with $10.87 in the current budget.

The budget calls for expenditures of $80.59 million, with $14.99 million to be raised by property taxes.

The preliminary budget called for a tax increase of about 30 percent, but Legislature Chairman Edgar Sherman, R-Little Genesee, said Margeson, County Treasurer Terri Ross, department heads and the Legislature worked diligently to reduce that increase.

Margeson, as budget officer, submitted the preliminary budget Sept. 30 and the final version adopted Monday after several work sessions with legislators.

The 2002 budget called for spending $79 million.

Legislator Pat Regan, R-Willing, told the board that it should have anticipated the cost of various state-mandated family and children's health insurance programs early enough to trim the tax increase even further.

Child Health Plus and Family Health Plus, which are billed to the counties where enrollees live, are responsible for the brunt of the increases in taxes and spending, according to Margeson and others.

The Legislature has approved three new revenues to help offset the costs of those programs without a greater increase in property tax, several members said. They include a 4 percent hotel occupancy tax and increases in automobile and mortgage taxes.

The budget calls for the hotel occupancy tax to generate $125,000; automobile-use tax, $180,000; and mortgage tax, $150,000 annually.

But Legislator Brent Reynolds, R-Alfred Station, said he thinks that the revenue projected for the hotel occupancy tax is unrealistic. The hotel occupancy rate would have to be 46 percent through the year for that much tax revenue to be generated, according to Reynolds, who said he has been told that the current occupancy runs about 40 percent.

Reynolds, Regan and Legislators Daniel Russo, R-Wellsville, and Edmund Burdick, R-Black Creek, voted against the amendments to the tentative budget that produced the figures adopted Monday and the budget itself.

Neither Burdick nor Russo commented.

In other business, the Legislature:

Scheduled a public hearing for Dec. 9 on a proposed local law that would allow publication of local laws in digest form rather than in full to save legal advertising costs. County Attorney Daniel J. Guiney said his research and conversations with Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer's office lead him to conclude that such abbreviated publication is legal.

Set a hearing for 2 p.m. Dec. 9 on the proposed expansion of the Empire Zone in the county. However, the full description -- not a digest version -- of the proposed changes in the zone's boundaries will have to be published.

Heard Veterans Service Director H. Scott Spillane of Wellsville say that his assistant, Toni Witter, is retiring after 25 years and that, under a hiring freeze recently adopted, his office will not be able to offer its usual service.

"We have had an open-door policy where veterans and their families can come in and get immediate assistance. . . . This will come to a screeching halt when I am there by myself."

Ratified Sherman's appointment of Legislator James A. Graffrath, R-Andover, to the area's Railroad Development Authority.

Ratified Sherman's appointment of himself and Legislator Susan Myers, R-Friendship, to the Southern Tier West Regional Planning and Development Board.

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