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8% assessment rise is part of budget plan

Cattaraugus County legislators Wednesday night received a 2008 budget draft that projects $194.9 million in appropriations and includes an 8.12 percent increase in the full-value assessments on property in the county.

County Administrator Jack Searles, who presented his spending recommendations during the Legislature's committee meetings, said the full value of properties for the coming year is projected at $3,592,744,396. This contributes to a 1.38 percent decrease in the county's projected full-value tax, capping a three-year trend.

Searles said the increase in full values on property is expected to reach almost $279 million. For perspective, he compared the change with the $15 million cost paid several years ago for a new nursing home at the Pines Health Care and Rehabilitation Center in Machias.

"You could build 18 nursing homes" with the full-value increase, he said.

The recommended plan reflects a 3.61 percent increase in appropriations and a 6.63 percent rise in the tax levy, which would total $43.9 million if the plan is found acceptable by legislators.

Searles said that in preparing the draft budget, requests by department heads were reduced by about $2 million, and there were other cuts totaling $4.8 million. None of the requested 10 new positions survived the draft, but Searles warned that some department heads may continue to advocate hiring during the forthcoming budget review process.

He pointed out that the budget's greatest cost increase would be in employee health insurance, expected to rise by more than $2 million, and health insurance provided to retirees. The latter would jump by almost $700,000, partly because of an expected 35 new retirements in 2008.

Searles said that subsidies surpassing $1.7 million would be needed to support the county's two nursing homes and that more than $1.3 million is recommended for the first year of a Public Works Department program for equipment replacement.

The legislators will begin the first of two budget review meetings with department heads this afternoon, beginning at 12:35 with departments overseen by the Development and Agriculture Committee. At 1:30, the County Operations Committee review will be held, and the Public Works Committee will discuss spending plans at 3 p.m.

A second session will be held Tuesday afternoon, to include departments overseen by the Public Safety, Human Services and Senior Services committees.

Searles said the budget review process has been condensed this year and that the final draft is expected in the week after Thanksgiving. To meet that schedule, the Finance Committee should take up revisions to the draft at 6 p.m. Nov. 15, with the full Legislature tentatively scheduled to vote after a 3 p.m. public hearing Nov. 20.

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