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Legislators get briefing on last year's budget

A financial briefing on last year's budget was given Wednesday to Cattaraugus County legislators during a final end-of-summer session.

Auditors from Toski, Schaefer & Co. PC, of Williamsville, presented specifics on the $211.3 million budget, which includes a fund balance of $22 million. Of that amount, $19 million was not designated.

Legislature Chairman Michael T. O'Brien, R-Portville, commented, "We are in good shape financially."

O'Brien said recent action by legislators to purchase new financial software for all departments helps track finances and provides more efficient checks on revenues and when they are due from specific sources, such as state government. Later in the meeting, legislators gave approval to tap into the current fund balance to withdraw $1.5 million.

The state is providing Supplemental Medicaid Upper Payment Limit payments to public nursing facilities for the years 2009-10 and 2010-11. The county's Pines Healthcare and Rehabilitation centers are eligible for payments of $4.1 million for the Machias facility and $3.9 million for the Olean facility for a total of $8.3 million to be received in November.

The nonfederal share required, which the county must submit to receive the Medicaid payments of $8.3 million, is $3.1 million. The county previously accrued $2.3 million, leaving an amount due of $1.5 million.

County Administrator Jack Searles and staff have begun preparing a new budget for 2012 with an eye toward releasing it Nov. 9.

Searles, in a recent statement, said, "The county will be reviewing and developing a prudent use of its fund balance to help offset increases in costs and reduction in revenues, while maintaining the long-term fiscal stability of the county.

"The use of a fund balance for reoccurring expenses is generally not recommended because once used, the revenue is no longer available."

Searles went on to explain that the current fund balance of $19.8 million contains $4 million in receivables due from state and federal governments for prior years.

The state comptroller, Searles said, suggests counties maintain 13 to 15 percent of an annual budget in the fund balance to provide sufficient cash flow in the event of a disaster, unseen reductions or delays in payments.

At the beginning of 2011, the county's fund balance was 9.34 percent of the total budget and below the level recommended by the State Comptroller's Office.

In the 2011 budget, the county used $3 million from the fund balance to hold down the tax levy and set aside $2.7 million for nursing homes cash flow.