No County Tax Increase? Oh, Wait …

2013 could go down as a banner year for Chautauqua County taxpayers.

Thanks to the Chautauqua County Home, it’s not likely to happen.

On Wednesday, County Executive Greg Edwards delivered his 2013 State of the County address. The speech contained an ambitious list of goals for the coming year and news that the county executive may be able to propose a budget with no tax levy increase – provided, of course, the legislature were to sell the Chautauqua County Home. A year with no tax increase would be a wonderful respite for taxpayers who have seen county property taxes increase from $54.893 million in 2009 to $62.947 million in 2013.

Do we think that will happen? Frankly, not anytime soon.

On the bright side, Edwards has some other interesting plans for 2013.

Edwards said the county plans to begin discussions to privatize the county airport in Dunkirk. While federal guidelines attached to prior funding mean the county airport in Jamestown has to remain in existence for at least another 20 years, the Dunkirk airport has no such protection. Edwards said the county plans to market the airport for sale to a private entity, creating funding to improve the Jamestown airport. It is a tough choice – likely to be unpopular in the northern end of the county – but a good choice.

Despite the change in Seneca Nation leadership in the November election, Edwards said construction of an outlet mall on nation-owned land near the state Thruway in Hanover could begin this year. The development could create more than 750 permanent jobs and more than 300 construction jobs. It is a welcome development and a solid payout on the time county officials have spent cultivating a relationship with the Seneca Nation.

Finally, with the land around Chautauqua Lake among the biggest property tax generators in the county, Edwards said the county plans to lead creation of a single sewer district around the lake. There is no cost estimate yet for such a project, but the background work must be done. Chautauqua Lake is too vital to the county economy to drive taxpayers away from lakefront property. Better sewer infrastructure is one way to decrease the nutrient levels that feed lake weeds.

Solid initiatives and a year with no looming budget crisis? It could have been the best news county taxpayers had heard in years.

Of course, it all hinges on selling the county home.

Drat.