MAYVILLE - A simple majority in the Chautauqua County Legislature might not cut it much longer.
In response to a $80,000 allocation to the Chautauqua Lake Association (CLA) for weed harvesting, a group of lawmakers are looking into expanding voting requirements when a resolution requires support from the county's fund balance.
Doing so would require 17 votes in the legislature - a two-thirds super majority - to approve any fund balance appropriations not in the budget. The county currently has 25 legislative districts.
"Well I think we should think a little more when we spend that kind of money," Majority Leader Larry Barmore, R-Gerry, said to the OBSERVER.
Barmore said he was contacted by Keith Ahlstrom, D-Dunkirk, about establishing the super majority vote shortly after the legislature's June voting session.
"That is going to make it much more difficult (to spend the fund balance)," Ahlstrom told WDOE, Dunkirk. "We all realize that we have budget issues coming up in the future and we feel, in discussing after the meeting, that we certainly have to have the ability if an emergency arises to get to the fund balance.
"But we need to make it as difficult as possible on ourselves so that it is going to be that true emergency type."
The legislature in June approved a heavily amended resolution by Minority Leader Lori Cornell, D-Jamestown, to allocate $50,000 out of the county's fund balance to the CLA. An additional $30,000 also will be channeled to the lake association through a portion of the county's 2 percent occupancy tax.
As stipulated, the CLA must provide a $20,000 match to receive the funds, which must be used to get a third harvesting machine on Chautauqua Lake.
Cornell's resolution originally called for $200,000 for waterways management, all of which would have come from the county's fund balance. The resolution, however, was reduced by the legislature.
Although only in its preliminary stages, lawmakers will likely discuss changing the voting requirements during committee meetings later this month.
"At the time I told Ahlstrom I wasn't sure how I would end up feeling about it, but I like it enough that we should send it through committee and see what everybody thinks," Barmore said.
He added, "Right at this moment, I'm not disinterested. I think it has enough merit."
It remains unknown at this time if the legislation would be permanent or temporary; the legislature in 2014 will be reduced to 19 districts, which would change a super majority to 13 votes.
If approved, it wouldn't be the first action requiring a super majority. According to Steve Abdella, county attorney, the legislature requires two/thirds vote when selling a county real property. For example, he said, if lawmakers were to vote to privatize the County Home, a super majority would be required.
The legislature also requires two/thirds vote for bond resolutions for county borrowing, to override a veto by the county executive and to amend the County Charter.
County Executive Greg Edwards said he was just recently made aware of the possible resolution.
"I think it's unfortunate that we have to add more laws on the books to help people do the right thing," Edwards said. "We're looking at creating more legislation when it should be obvious we shouldn't be spending our fund balance unless it's an emergency."
Edwards said with the state "demanding more money," more services will have to be cut and more reserves will need to be utilized. He added that the county cannot afford at this time to dip into its fund balance for non-emergent use.
"It's unfortunate that we even have to have this conversation," he said. "But I can understand given what we just went through (with Cornell's resolution) why this is being brought up."
The legislature in May agreed to allocate $1.36 million out of the fund balance to match a federal grant toward the County Home. The local share contribution by and large was supported by lawmakers, including Edwards who noted that he had the payment in his original budget.