Legislature makes slight adjustment
After about 25 hours of budget review, the Chautauqua County Legislature has made the slightest of adjustment on the proposed overall tax rate.
County Executive PJ Wendel proposed a budget with a levy of $68,139,034. His 2022 spending plan would have a tax rate of $8.251 per $1,000 of assessed property taxes. In the revised budget plan by the county Legislature, the levy, which is the amount raised by property taxes, is $68,155,837. That would set the property tax rate at $8.253.
“The county executive’s budget has a 25.5-cent decrease,” explained Legislature Chairman Pierre Chagnon, R-Bemus Point. “With the changes it’s a 25.3-cent reduction.”
Even though the tax rate has changed ever so slightly, there were a number of changes made.
The biggest, Chagnon explained, is that during committee meetings, legislators wanted to create a $500,000 contingency account in the 2022 budget. In 2021, the legislature put in a $500,000 contingency account, however it appears that money will be completely spent by the end of the year, due to unplanned expenses. “With all the uncertainty in the economy, legislators felt it would be good to include that contingency account,” he said.
Overall, the legislators proposed an increase in 17 different expenditures and a decrease in another 16 expenditures. Lawmakers also increased revenue to four different lines and decreased revenue to two lines.
Legislator Chuck Nazzaro, D-Jamestown, serves as the chairman of the Audit and Control Committee. He explained that each home committee — Public Facilities, Administrative Services, Public Safety, Human Services, Planning and Economic Development — looked at the departments they oversee in Wendel’s tentative budget and proposed changes of their own. All the changes were forwarded to the Audit and Control Committee and that committee finalized the legislature’s modified budget. Those changes will again be examined next week during committee meetings before the budget is finalized. Right now, the budget is expected to be voted on at the full legislature meeting Oct. 27.
In Wendel’s budget, he added more than 40 positions. Many of those were returning the county’s employment to the prepandemic level. Nazzaro said the legislature wants to make sure the positions can be funded, not only for 2022, but for many years to come. Some of the positions are funded with state and/or federal grants, while others use county tax dollars. “The key here is we wanted to make sure any reoccurring expenses that we put back in the budget, we can sustain that,” he said.
Nazzaro noted that he has been involved in 14 different county budget reviews. “This one is different in that the county is in a stronger financial position than we started the year,” he said.
Some of that is due to the American Rescue Plan Act, which is giving the county $24.6 million over the next two years. Although that money can’t be used to pay down debt or lower property taxes, there are things the county can use the money for, instead of relying on the general fund.
Nazzaro also noted that the county is in a stronger place because sales tax revenue is much higher than anticipated. “We have $5 to $6 million more than we budgeted,” he said. He believes the higher amount is due to sales tax collected on internet purchases.
At this point, Nazzaro isn’t in a hurry to reduce taxes further with the higher sales tax, simply because no one knows if it’s going to last. Some financial experts believe that the additional unemployment benefits and the stimulus payments caused a temporary spike in sales.
For now, the extra funds are going into the county’s fund balance. Nazzaro said the county’s fund balance was at 5%. It appears it will hit 9% by the end of the year. The county is recommended to have a fund balance between 5% and 15%.
“I’m comfortable leaving the sales tax where its at,” in terms of expected income in 2022, Nazzaro said.
By the end of the week, the county will likely get is third quarter sales tax payment. Nazzaro said legislators could make further adjustments, depending on what the revenue is.