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BUDGET VOTE DELAYED FOR DETAILS ON CUTS

Chautauqua County officials were scheduled learn more today about how more than $200,000 in additional cuts in County Executive Mark Thomas' proposed budget will affect each department.

After nearly 60 people spoke out at a hearing, lawmakers decided Wednesday night to postpone a budget vote until Nov. 9.

By law, county lawmakers must approve a budget by Nov. 10 or Thomas' budget will take effect.

Thomas' $200.5 million proposal, unveiled in September, also called for a tax rate increase of nearly 22 percent.

Since then, the Democratic caucus came out with its own series of cuts to a number of county departmental budgets, slashing more than $2 million from Thomas' plan. Now the lawmakers are considering about $200,000 in more cuts.

Democrats also proposed lowering the property tax rate increase to 16 cents from $2.11 per $1,000 of assessed valuation by raising the sales tax to 8.5 cents from 7.25 cents per dollar and the mortgage tax a quarter percentage point.

Legislature Chairman Keith Ahlstrom, D-Dunkirk, said the vote delay will give everyone time to crunch the numbers.

Two public hearings on the budget were held Wednesday, and 4-H supporters came out in force. Word had begun to circulate earlier this week that a $200,000 cut to the Health Department would have forced many 4-H programs to shut down.

The rumor began after Cornell Cooperative Extension was informed that the county would terminate two contracts, including one providing $71,000 for youth development.

Thomas, who was angry over the news, accused Cornell Cooperative Extension Director Andrew Dufresne of starting the rumor.

"He hasn't talked to me, so what he has is conversation that he had with a department head while I make those decisions, not department heads, or what goes down the hall to the Legislature. A department head may have made a recommendation as a possible cut, that doesn't mean it got past me!"

Ahlstrom said that, in crafting their own proposed budget, Democrats never intended to eliminate 4-H programs.

"I don't know where that came from," he said. "That wasn't a cut by the Democratic caucus. We have a certain amount, $200,000 from Public Health, and somebody somewhere has decided to leak the information that that money was going to decimate 4-H."

Many children begged the Legislature on Wednesday to leave their programs alone.

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