MAYVILLE - The 2013 Chautauqua County budget is in the books.
Reactions, however, are still rolling in.
The legislature late Wednesday passed a spending plan that increases the county tax levy and decreases the tax rate. The budget does not include revenue from the potential sale of the Chautauqua County Home, as was originally proposed by County Executive Greg Edwards.
OBSERVER Photo by Eric Tichy
The Chautauqua County Legislature approved the 2013 budget Wednesday.
Susan Marsh, county finance director, said next year's spending plan does not include any cuts to county departments or programs. The decrease in the tax rate is the result of an increase in anticipated revenue, she said.
"They didn't cut anything. I don't know what their thoughts were," Marsh said. "I'm not sure where the money is coming from, but it's not how I would have done it."
The legislature passed amendments to increase anticipated revenue from sales tax and from federal aid through the county Department of Social Services.
A portion of funds that would have been sent toward the County Home and matched by federal dollars also were taken out of the final budget. Those funds are expected to be made up through cost-saving suggestions in a recent financial viability report.
"It's easy to increase revenue estimates in the budget," said George Borrello, R-Irving. "But if they fall short we will have to make up that deficit next year."
If projections next year come in lower than budgeted, the county would turn to its fund balance to offset any losses, Marsh said, noting that in 2007 the county budget was off by almost $4 million.
"Maybe they have a better crystal ball than I have," she said.
Keith Ahlstrom, D-Dunkirk, was one of four legislators to vote against next year's spending plan. The former legislature chairman was highly critical of cuts made during Wednesday's session, and pointed to work sessions earlier this month that are designed to set the budget in place.
"The process was not the right way to do a budget," Ahlstrom told reporters after the meeting. "We go through a month of meetings ... and then we come here and throw out everything we do for two weeks in October."
Other legislators who voted against next year's budget explained their reasoning.
"Really I think we're just pushing off what we're going to have to face in the future," said Mark Tarbrake, R-Ellicott. "We have to start facing the deficit we're going to have."
Tarbrake in particular said he was "upset" to see a $1 million reduction the county GASB 45 account, used for post-retirement benefits. "I wasn't too pleased to see us take that out," he said. "Don't get me wrong, I'm glad to see the budget pass, but I wasn't really happy about (how it was done)."
Fred Croscut, R-Sherman, said he was displeased with the legislature's decision to use its reserve accounts to lower the county tax rate. "I thought the county executive put together an excellent bare-bones budget," he said, noting a potential budget gap of $14 million in 2014.
Said PJ Wendel, R-Lakewood: "It's unfortunate we had all the theatrics in the legislature with one person who proposed their so-called tax package simply to get in the newspaper, on the radio and on TV."
A majority of lawmakers, however, did approve next year's spending plan.
"Not everyone got what they wanted, but I'm happy how it went," said legislature chairman Jay Gould, R-Ashville
As approved, the county tax rate next year will be $9.14 cents per $1,000 assessed value; the tax rate currently is at $9.22. The tax levy, meanwhile, will go from $61.647 million this year to $62.136 next year.
Borrello said using the county fund balance next year may hurt the county when borrowing money for projects, including new radios for the sheriff's office.
"This budget we passed last night will likely result in a lower bond rating and higher interest rates for our bonds," Borrello said. "That fact got lost in the grandstanding that took place."
By utilizing funds out of the budget, Borrello said the county would be below the 5 percent recommended level by the state Comptroller's Office. The approved spending plan leaves the fund balance at 3.2 percent of total revenue.