MAYVILLE - County Executive Greg Edwards pulled out all the stops Wednesday, including the sale of the Chautauqua County Home in his balanced 2013 tentative budget.
The bold move will force lawmakers to either go along with privatizing the Dunkirk nursing facility, or find approximately $6 million in a limited budget year to make up for its potential profit.
"The legislature has a very clear decision to make," Edwards told reporters after the legislature meeting. "Because if they elect not to go forward with the County Home sale, they will then have the chance to raise taxes by $6.3 million."
The county executive highlighted $13.3 million in increased costs next year, which he said is the result of swelling Medicaid and state retirement contributions. County employee step and benefit increases, which will total over $2 million in 2013, also played a large role in the cost increases, Edwards said.
The tentative budget calls for a tax levy increase of 1.72 percent, a $1.3 million increase over this year's $61 million levy. The property tax rate will increase 3 cents per $1,000 assessed value, equaling a .38 percent bump.
The levy increase, Edwards noted, is to cover a local share subsidy for the County Home. The intergovernmental transfer payment, if kept in the budget by lawmakers, would be matched dollar for dollar by the federal government.
According to the county executive, the IGT payment was placed in his spending plan to maximize a return if the County Home were sold.
The home's fund balance would be transferred to the county's if a sale were completed.
"The issue of the County Home and its future is a crucial issue when it comes to this year, next year and every succeeding year of obligations to taxpayers of Chautauqua County will have with regard to the tax load," Edwards said.
"The budget includes the projected net proceeds from the sale of the County Home."
To calculate the county's tax level next year, Edwards projected a $6.3 million profit from selling the home. The line item indicates the county would sell the Dunkirk skilled nursing facility to Altitude Health Services Inc., which offered $16.5 million in cash outright.
Only two offers were made on the home, one by Altitude Health, and the other by Absolut Care Facilities Management LLC the latter of which was a lease offer.
Also highlighted in Edwards' plan: The restoration of "postponed" repairs to county roads and bridges; a fund balance that meets the state comptroller's recommended levels; and a budget that stays under the state-imposed 2 percent tax cap.
Initial reaction from party leaders was mixed.
"I haven't really had a chance to digest (the budget) yet to know how I feel, but obviously it's going to force our hand one way or another," said Majority Leader Larry Barmore, R-Gerry.
Barmore said after talking to several legislators prior to Wednesday's budget presentation, he believes there is enough support to sell the County Home. To sell any county property, the legislature needs a two-thirds, supermajority vote.
Early straw polls indicated there were not enough votes to privatize the home. Barmore, however, said some lawmakers may now be leaning toward a sale.
Said Minority Leader Lori Cornell, D-Jamestown: "I think we have a lot of work to do. We now have an interesting approach to this budget process."
As for Edwards placing profits from selling the County Home into his spending plan, Cornell said, "I think it was a little backhanded. If he is so intent on selling the home then he should submit a resolution doing so."
During public dicussion before and after the legislative session, several residents spoke against selling the 216-bed nursing facility. Other residents, meanwhile, volcally spoke in favor of the privatization.
With Edwards' tentative budget in place, legislative committees will begin vetting the information next week in budget review sessions. All committee meetings will be held in Room 331 in the Gerace Office Building in Mayville.
The committee schedule is as follows: Monday at 9:10 a.m., Public Facilities, and 1:15 p.m., Public Safety; Tuesday at 9:10 a.m., Administrative Services; Wednesday at 9:10 a.m., Planning and Economic Development, and 11:15 a.m., Human Services; and Friday, Oct. 5, 9 a.m., Audit and Control.