MAYVILLE It took nearly 10 hours and two meetings of the full County Legislature, but Chautauqua County now has a 2011 budget.
Between the two Wednesday meetings, hundreds of members of the public attended to protest proposed cuts to their programs, while county department heads then lined up to weigh in.
By the time the legislature had a motion on the floor to approve the budget, the clock neared midnight. The budget approved by the legislature Wednesday is the same budget that was up for approval on Oct. 27 before 13 changes proposed by Minority Leader Rudy Mueller, D-Lakewood, prompted the legislature to take a week to mull the proposed changes and allow for public comment.
As proposed by County Executive Greg Edwards last month, the 2011 budget featured a 74-cent tax increase per $1,000 of assessed valuation. After lengthy review by the legislature, the budget was approved with a 72-cent increase per $1,000 of assessed value.
Much like the Oct. 27 public hearing, senior citizens, veterans and groups that receive funding from the county Youth Bureau were out in force to protest proposed cuts to their departments. Speakers also included a New York State Police captain who argued against cuts to the Sheriffs Department and a Stow resident who wanted the budget process started earlier.
Among the Democrats 13 proposed changes were cutting each of the Youth Bureau, Office of the Aging and Veterans Services local shares in half cuts that groups like Chautauqua Adult Day Care and Meals on Wheels of the Jamestown Area said would effectively end their programs. During the public comment portion of Wednesdays meeting, Jodie Briggs of the Dunkirk Boys and Girls Club questioned legislators about the impact of the cuts, asking How many more spaghetti dinner fundraisers can we hold?
The Chautauqua County 4-H Club was also in attendance to protest the Youth Bureau cuts that 4-H members say would have irreparably harmed their program.
Once the public comment portion ended, Keith Ahlstrom, D-Dunkirk, and Maria Kindberg, D-Jamestown, spoke for what they called the majority of county residents who want their taxes cut.
Larry Barmore, R-Gerry, answered the Democrats argument by citing the amount of money paid each year in school taxes, suggesting those who want to cut their tax bills were barking up the wrong tree and should take their argument to their local school boards, since school taxes cost more each year than county taxes.
While public comment was almost overwhelmingly against the Democrats proposed cuts, Mueller made a motion to withdraw the entire package of proposed cuts to pre-empt the line of department heads who were ready to speak. Muellers motion was defeated, however, so department heads addressed the legislature one after another for several hours facing questions largely from Ahlstrom, Kindberg and Ron Lemon, R-Frewsburg.
The package of cuts was then voted on, and defeated, 14-11 by the legislature. The legislature then passed the budget as it was proposed to them last Wednesday, with a 72 cent per $1,000 tax increase. The vote broke down along party lines, 14 to 11, with Scot Stutzman, I-Jamestown, joining the Democrats in their opposition to the spending plan.