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Cattaraugus County preparing to deal with fiscal uncertainty

Cattaraugus County government department heads have been asked to prepare position papers early next year to show what will happen to mandated programs that receive state and federal funds under the 5 to 30 percent cutbacks that some analysts feel are inevitable due to the financial crisis.

Officials have briefed county lawmakers on the potential impact due to the Wall Street meltdown, government bailouts and general economic conditions, predicting a 12 percent cut in state aid for counties.

Some county legislators recently learned that this rate has been accepted by analysts at a meeting of the New York State Association of Counties. An initial 2 percent cut, followed by a 6 percent cut, is expected by NYSAC, Cattaraugus County officials say in a report to be given at the Legislature's Finance Committee meeting next week.

But with little information about how these cuts will be made at the state level, the administration will have to make some tough predictions, and Cattaraugus County's department heads are uncertain where to plan for future cuts beyond the 2 percent.

Lawmakers were warned their budget may be subject to change soon after its adoption early next year as the first wave of consequences of the world financial quandary reach the county level.

Cattaraugus County Administrator Jack Searles, who has the job of drafting a tentative budget, said department heads have brought requests that are higher than he wishes.

Department heads have been asked to refrain from requesting creation of new positions. According to Legislature Chairman Crystal Abers, R-South Dayton, 19 requests to fill vacancies were made. The legislators will take a final review of the tentative budget Nov. 10, Nov. 13 and Nov. 20, and are expected to adopt a plan Nov. 25. The county's 2008 budget is just under $195 million.

Searles said he is working to trim the proposal and warned the Finance Committee members that failing to plan for future state and federal cuts will simply place the burden on local taxpayers. He said a third wave of state budget cuts of 10 percent is rumored and any program could be affected, so "all bets are off."

He advised lawmakers to be prepared for a "turbulent" 2009 and to be "reactive" to cuts that are expected in January.

"We'll do the best we can for you in the budget [preparations], but we don't have a good comfort feel with state revenues," Searles said.

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