MAYVILLE - As of today the Chautauqua County Home is publicly owned. Therefore, having its profit in the tentative 2013 county budget, legislator John Runkle said, is "fiscally irresponsible."
As a result, the legislature's Audit and Control Committee on Friday eliminated the sale of the Dunkirk skilled nursing facility - and its $6.3 million line item - from County Executive Greg Edwards' preliminary spending plan.
"We have a duty to create a fiscally responsible budget here," Runkle told the committee shortly after convening in Mayville for a budget review session.
OBSERVER Photo by Eric Tichy
The legislature’s Audit and Control Committee on Friday eliminated the sale of the County Home from the 2013 tentative county budget. Legislators said having the $6.3 million profit from the home’s sale was fiscally irresponsible at this time.
"Regardless on how one feels, I think it would be irresponsible for us to include the revenue from the sale of the County Home, which the county executive has included in his budget."
Legislator Chuck Nazzaro, D-Jamestown, agreed, noting that while he is in favor of selling the 216-bed nursing facility, including it in the budget now is premature.
"I think that is this fiscally responsible thing to do," Nazzaro said. "Regardless what your position is, I think it is premature to put $6.3 million in the budget from the sale."
The county executive last month told lawmakers if they were not in favor of selling the County Home, they could either raise property taxes or reduce the county fund balance.
By removing the sale from the tentative budget Friday, legislators did both.
To make up the $6.3 million from the sale, the committee approved raising property taxes by $1 million. The tax rate would increase 18 cents to $9.40 per $1,000 assessed value; the increase pushes the county up to its 2 percent tax cap, while the remaining money will come from the county fund balance.
However, Susan Marsh, county finance director, said using more money out of the fund balance than in Edwards' tentative budget could affect the county's bond rating. With less funds in its coffers the county would have a harder time borrowing money for projects, including one involving the County Landfill.
Furthermore, Marsh said the state Comptroller's Office recommends a fund balance at 5 percent of total revenues, which - for Chautauqua County in 2013 - would be approximately $10.8 million.
If the legislature ends up approving the committee's recommendation, the fund balance would drop $5.2 million next year, 2.6 percent of total revenues.
"You're only going to cut the hole deeper," Marsh said. "You have a deficit, where do you get it from? "You continue to take it out of the fund balance. You're going to have to cut programs or you're going to have to increase your revenue base."
Added Kitty Crow, county budget director: "Or you override the (2 percent) tax cap."
The county executive, meanwhile, said the increases, if kept in the budget, should be eye-opening to county taxpayers.
"The realization is, they increased property taxes by over a million dollars and they decreased our savings account below what the comptroller has recommended," Edwards said.
Runkle stressed the budget may be amended in the future before legislature approval. He alluded to an Oct. 18 special legislative meeting, scheduled this week by legislature chairman Jay Gould, R-Ashville. The only item on the agenda, Gould said, is the potential sale of the County Home.
Runkle said after the special session, the budget will be reassessed. "But as of right now, this is the responsible thing to do," he said.
A recommendation handed down to eliminate an investigator and vehicle in the District Attorney's Office, and an investigator in the Public Defender's Office was defeated Friday in committee.
According to Crow, eliminating the positions and the vehicle would save the county $171,400 in next year's budget
David Foley, county district attorney, said eliminating an investigator and a vehicle would place a strain on his department already running a reduced operation.
"I have continually made cuts to our staff," Foley said. "Honestly we are just at the point where if we lose any more my office will lose the ability to do our job."
Ned Barone, county public defender, also said losing an investigator would be detrimental.
"We would come to a crashing halt," he said, pointing that having "instant access" to an investigator is crucial in his office.
Committee also approved a motion to fund $230,000 for new trucks in the county Department of Public Facilities. George Spanos, public facilities director, said many department vehicles are beginning to show their age.