Budget hike

MAYVILLE – County Executive Greg Edwards’ tentative $230.8 million 2014 budget reflects a 2.58 percent tax rate increase.

Edwards unveiled his 2014 budget to the Chautauqua County Legislature on Wednes-day. His presentation included highlights and recommendations on ways to cut the budget, should legislators feel it is necessary.

As the budget stands now, taxpayers will pay $9.39 per $1,000 of assessed value of their properties.

“I’m thrilled to be able to present a budget for next year, 2014, where the property tax rate – that all-important rate for people when they look at it – is actually less than it was eight years ago, in 2006, when I first began my work as a county executive, under a budget my predecessor built,” Edwards said. “The great news is that the rate in my tentative budget – while it’s up slightly – only represents an additional payment by a taxpayer, for example, who has a $100,000 home, of less than $24.”

The budget, which Edwards said will maintain essential local services, meet mandated service requirements and fund IGT for the Chautauqua County Home the same amount as the 2013 budget will include an increase of $2,127,337 in the tax levy. The hike is the result of a decrease of $860,000 in jail revenue, an increase of $300,000 to repair county roads and bridges, a $500,000 increase in funding for seniors, a net increase of $224,000 in other areas and the use of $3,222,000 from the county’s fund balance. The tax levy increase is offset by $2,979,000 more in state and federal aid than in 2013.

“No one likes a rate increase, but the nice thing about this as well is, with that rate increase comes an additional $300,000 invested in our roads and bridges, something we absolutely have to do to maintain the quality of life we have,” Edwards said. “Even more importantly, there’s an increase of $500,000 for our seniors, for our Office for the Aging to deliver services right in the homes of our seniors.”

Edwards explained that by offering services in the homes of seniors, it reduces the number of seniors in skilled nursing facilities, which saves a projected $10 million in Medicaid costs.

“On the cost side, what I’m particularly proud of, there was a .5 percent – that’s one-half of 1 percent – increase in our spending,” Edwards said. “Despite all the pressures we’re all under in our whole budgets, the fact that the cost of fuel is going to be up significantly … We’ve managed that. We’ve designed ways to deal with that, to become more efficient, more effective, delivering three to four times more services to the people of Chautauqua County.”

Beginning Monday, legislative committees will begin hearing from department heads regarding the budget, starting with the Human Services Committee.

“(Legislators) have a significant amount of time to get into this budget,” Edwards said. “They were handed the line items, a 100-plus-page document tonight, so they have all the numbers. All my department heads stand ready to answer any questions they have. I look forward to the formal process of going through the budget, department by department, as well as with the Audit and Control Committee afterward.”

In addition to presenting the budget, Edwards presented what he called the “obvious decisions” legislators could make in finalizing the budget. He said legislators could opt to not fund the IGT for the County Home, opt to not invest $300,000 in roads and bridges or not invest $500,000 in the Office for the Aging, or opt to draw all of the money out of the fund balance.

Legislators have until Nov. 10 to adopt a budget.