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COUNTY Another spin on budget plan

The OBSERVER's View

At first glance, Chautauqua County’s proposed 2021 budget looks great for taxpayers.

County Executive PJ Wendel is proposing a 5-cent per $1,000 of assessed valuation tax decrease for county taxpayers — with a further tax rate decrease required so that the county meets the state’s 2% tax cap.

But don’t be fooled by the tax rate decrease. County taxes aren’t going down.

Your government is asking for more money in 2021 than it did in 2020– it’s just being spread out over a bigger tax base. The county’s tax levy is proposed to increase by $2.2 million, or 3%, from the 2020 budget. The tax rate is decreasing because the county has seen a 4% increase in taxable assessment.

We don’t mean to be a wet blanket here. It’s incredible that the county is seeing a taxable assessment increase during the middle of a pandemic. Big new buildings are being built, particularly in the north county. Such building is an example of former County Executive Vince Horrigan’s vision to grow the county out of its past budget problems.

This is a year, though, in which the county should avoid new spending and programs if possible.

No one knows what next year is going to bring. No one has any clue if the state is going to begin cutting aid to programs run by the county if federal COVID-19 aid isn’t approved.

At the same time, we note the ongoing financial warning that is Jamestown. Jamestown built up programs during a time when it was growing, when increases in its tax base from factories and new housing meant new spending was masked by a tax rate that barely moved each year. But when the building stopped, the city was left with programs it couldn’t afford.

Don’t be fooled by the decreasing tax rate, county taxpayers. Spending and taxes are going up, it’s just not noticeable on your tax bill — yet.

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