Lawmakers Sending Wrong Message

Every line in a municipal budget is, in one form or another, a statement of a legislative body’s priorities.

It’s something to keep in mind as Chautauqua County lawmakers continue discussions over the fate of the Chautauqua County Home. Recently, we reported the number of welfare fraud arrests in Chautauqua County has decreased by nearly 75 percent from 92 in 2011 to 35 in 2012. Arrests haven’t decreased because there is less welfare fraud in the county.

The reason there are fewer welfare fraud arrests is fewer deputies investigating the crime. As county lawmakers tried to cut the county tax levy over the last couple of years, one of the casualties was a welfare fraud investigator. In 2012, the lone county welfare fraud investigator was given 207 potential cases, many of which came from 2011. That one investigator found $149,000 in misappropriated welfare spending in Chautauqua County. While county officials report doing a better job of keeping undeserving people off the welfare rolls in the first place, investigators are still needed to find those who slip through the cracks.

“If we had another one helping out, the number of arrests would double or triple,” Sheriff Joe Gerace told The Post-Journal recently.

Here’s where the county home money comes in. By making IGT payments to help paper over operating losses at the county home, county lawmakers are in fact making the policy statement not to fund a position that could help the public or not to give taxpayers a much-deserved tax cut in order to prop up a money-losing nursing home.

They’re making the wrong statement.