Newsmaker of the month: Excuse of inflation adds to runaway spending

OBSERVER Photo by Gregory Bacon

When it comes to inflation, it is a love and hate relationship for municipal governments. In budget preparations, elected officials always note that annual expenses will have to be adjusted higher due to the rate of inflation.

In the meantime, revenues also rise as a larger tax burden is placed on residents.

One of those categories comes from sales tax that is tied to rising prices hitting consumers. Those who have followed Chautauqua County government know our Legislature and executive are big spenders.

According to Thomas DiNapoli, state comptroller, the county took in $21.45 million in sales taxes from January through March, an 8.4% increase from the first three months of 2022. Second quarter statistics won’t be finalized until July, but April and May results show the county’s sales tax receipts have taken a hit. April collections are $6.88 million — a 10.1% decrease from April 2022 while May collections of $6.95 million are 4.5% less than May 2022.

“Modest growth in local sales tax collections could be challenging for local officials trying to maintain fiscal balance,” DiNapoli said. “Being prepared for a slowdown is especially important in this uncertain economy.”

County officials distribute sales tax revenues to municipalities, who also benefit from a county action in 2015. It was that year, lawmakers gave the approval to hiking the sales tax from 7.5% to 8.5%. That way, in their ultimate wisdom, everyone pays more.

Of course, property taxes do not go down once increased revenues begin coming in. An overweight government normally refuses and offers excuses on why it is not on a diet. Looking at annual spending plans — from every municipality — back this up.

Lost in the greed of revenues are the efforts for efficiency that could bring savings through a consolidation of municipal departments. Those ideas, however, have been shelved for far too long.

Yes, inflation is a problem for all of us. But don’t feel too bad for our governments. Many are willing to use it as an excuse when it comes to a continued increase in spending.


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