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Medicaid change has budget in the black

Cattaraugus County government spending exceeded revenues in the first three quarters of the year, but still fell short of planned appropriations, leaving the county about $2.8 million in the black, at least on paper.

County Administrator Jack Searles delivered his quarterly budget tracking report to legislators Wednesday during their final meeting of the year. The report points out significant variances in the budget picture, which can fluctuate throughout the year as expenses are paid and state aid and other income come in.

Searles said most of the favorable variance can be attributed to line items in the Social Services Department, where a surplus has materialized due to the state's takeover of Medicaid and the department's attempts to hold down expenses.

"Eighty-three percent of the surplus is due to the state takeover of Medicaid," he said.

For example, state aid caps were lifted on Medicaid administration costs, budgeted at $2.27 million. Actual costs were $1.15 million, for a positive variance of $1.12 million.

Searles also pointed out that while the tobacco settlement funds were $148,162 more than the $1.17 million estimated, the state has not yet sent the county its $500,000 payment for casino tax-immune proceeds.

Some of the county road fund's $634,498 positive variance is due to higher-than-expected sales tax distributions, while equipment rental proceeds have lagged and the road machinery fund saw a negative variance of $856,992 due to almost $320,000 in excess machinery appropriations.

The county's nursing homes in Olean and Machias spent $12.2 million of $18.2 budgeted as of Aug. 31, showing some financial improvements, especially in the Olean Pines, and logging a combined negative operational balance of $550,787.

Legislators also received a report on expenses of its retiree medical plan, currently serving 390 retirees. The report estimates the county will see $2.7 million in claims for the year, an amount that could grow to$11 million by 2033. The report notes medical coverage is provided for 790 active employees.

Legislators then dispensed with a lengthy hour-long agenda filled mostly with routine year-end legislation, contract approvals and appointments.

The lawmakers sent back to the Human Services Committee a $3,312 contract with Advertising Advantage of Jamestown for a billboard rental from Nov. 1 through April 1 displaying family planning services. Sponsor Jon Baker, R-Olean, asked the committee re-examine the legislation due to some "unfinished business" with the company.

The legislators will return for a reorganizational session at 3 p.m. on Jan. 3.

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