MAYVILLE - The county executive does not set the county's property tax rate, nor does the legislature, County Executive Greg Edwards told lawmakers Wednesday.
It's Albany that is the reason for the proposed 12 percent tax hike in 2012.
In presenting his budget to the County Legislature on Wednesday, Edwards highlighted exactly how much of the county's spending is mandated by the state.
Compounding the county's situation, Edwards said, is the state's 2 percent tax cap and the fact that the county wasn't allowed to set its own tax rate this year.
During the course of his 30-minute presentation, Edwards presented the details of next year's $18 million shortfall and the ways in which he's proposing to close it - layoffs, cuts to services and use of the county's fund balance.
"My job, under the terms of the financial management policy, was to deliver a fiscally based, balanced budget," Edwards said. "I did. It stinks. The last thing I want to do is start cutting services. The last thing I want to do is raise property taxes. The last thing I want to do is spend the balance of our fund balance, just to try and hold pat."
OBSERVER Photo by Nicholas L. Dean
Chautauqua County Executive Greg Edwards unveiled his 2012 budget plan Wednesday.
Of the total 2012 budget, Edwards said a total of 73 percent is mandated, a total of 17 percent is required and a total of 10 percent is non-mandated. Total appropriations in the tentative 2012 budget totals 239,124,662.
Total valuation in 2012 totals $6,686,124,537, an 11 percent increase from the adopted 2011 total valuation number of $6,678,673,573.
In the proposal is a property tax increase of $1.13 on every thousand dollars of assessed valuation. If passed, that would take the county's property tax rate from $8.90 per thousand dollars of assessed valuation to $10.03 - a 12.67 percent increase.
The total levy is proposed to increase by $7,603,714 to a total of $67,036,845 in 2012.
Under the 2 percent tax cap, the county is only allowed to increase the levy a total of $2,219,676 - putting the proposal a total of $5,384,038 over the allowable increase.
According to Edwards, an increase of $1.13 would mean an additional $85.29 in county property taxes on a home valued at $75,000 and an additional $56.86 in county property taxes on a home valued at $50,000.
"Albany leaders control 90 percent of all the dollars spent in Chautauqua County by Chautauqua County operations," Edwards said. "So when they continually demand more, that means our cost goes up and our property taxes go up."
Also during his presentation, Edwards pointed out that the county's property tax rate was $9.98 in 2005 - and so an increase to $10.03 may be an increase of $1.13 from 2011, but it's a 5-cent increase from the county's 2005 rate. He also provided details of the county's estimated $9 million deficit for 2013.
Legislature Chairman Fred Croscut, R-Sherman, called the county executive's presentation "a sobering message."
"I've never sat and listened to a county executive's budget before with such a sobering message," Croscut said. "And I think it gets the point across that we have to act as a body here during the next couple weeks to do what's right for the taxpayers of this county. But I think when it's all said and done it's going to be very, very difficult as you can see this evening to stay below the tax cap."
Also on the agenda at Wednesday's meeting was a local law proposed by Croscut to override the state's 2 percent tax cap. The local law was tabled by Republican caucus leaders, never reaching the floor for discussion. Croscut said that proposal will return next month for discussion and vote.
If the legislature does not vote to override the tax cap, Croscut said legislators will have to find another $5 million in cuts.
"There's enough hurt in that budget right now," Croscut said, adding that trying to cut that amount out of local share dollars would be "virtually impossible."
With the budget having gone online Monday afternoon, individuals were able to address various aspects of the proposal in detail at Wednesday's meeting - such as Todd Tranum, president and CEO of the Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce. Prior to the meeting, CSEA workers gathered with signs along the sidewalk of the Gerace Office Building. Several individuals spoke out during the meeting not only about the proposed employee cuts, but also about the possible privatization of the County Home.