Committee changing way legislature handles budget

MAYVILLE – The Audit and Control Committee is changing the way the legislature handles the budget.

The committee spent more than 30 minutes at its meeting discussing the budget process. Charles Nazzaro, D-Jamestown, brought up the changes, saying he felt as if legislators hear many stories during budget week, but don’t get the quality face-to-face time he believes they need in order to make educated decisions.

“I’d rather have more face-to-face time with the finance people,” Nazzaro said. “The last several budgets, we sit here all week, and actually we made very few changes. … At the end of the day, I feel, ‘Gee, what did we do? Nickel and dime a few things?'”

Committee Chairman John Runkle, R-Stockton, agreed with Nazzaro, saying he feels as if the legislature needs more time to look over the budget. Currently, committees meet for a week in early October to discuss budgets with corresponding department heads. Then, the Audit and Control Committee hears each budget plea.

The full legislature then generally passes the budget at its October meeting, although it has until Nov. 10 to pass it, due to a local law and county charter.

Nazzaro recommended that committees still meet this year from Sept. 30 through Oct. 4. However, instead of meeting with the Audit and Control committee that same week, Nazzaro recommended meeting the following week. This would allow other committees an in-depth chance to review the budgets. He and Runkle also suggested changing the county charter and local law, so that future legislators would also have a chance to thoroughly review budgets.

County Attorney Steve Abdella confirmed that making Nazzaro’s proposed changes this year would be lawful and proper, with nothing stopping the legislature from extending its meeting time. Legislative Chairman Jay Gould agreed the change would be a good one.

“I always thought it was too rushed a process,” Gould said. “I’ve sat through nine, or 10, or 11 budgets, and you see the same thing every year. It sure would be different to see something else.”

Nazzaro agreed to type his recommendations, to be forwarded to the entire legislature.

Also during the Audit and Control Meeting, Sheriff Joe Gerace discussed overcrowding at the Chautauqua County Jail. As of last week, Gerace said there were 298 people being held in the facility, which is quickly reaching capacity. Ideally, Gerace said the jail should only have 306 inmates.

“I’m encouraging the legislature to become involved in possibly developing some sort of task force to look at alternatives to incarceration,” Gerace said.

Gerace said there are already programs in place, including a program which puts weekend-only inmates to work in the community, as well as a program which allows certain offenders to be let out with an ankle bracelet.

Runkle supported a task force, but questioned whether judges and others involved in the sentencing would be on-board with it. Gerace suggested including nonprofits – such as The Resource Center, Aspire and Chautauqua Opportunities – if a task force was created, in order to look at all possible opportunities.