Cattaraugus County Unveils Tentative Budget

LITTLE VALLEY – As the tentative spending plan sits, residents of Cattaraugus County will see the lowest county tax levy increase since 2000.

According to senior county officials, the tentative, proposed levy increase for the 2014 budget will be 2.59 percent, the third lowest since 1980s 2.11 percent increase. In 2000 the county experienced just a 1.27 percent increase.

The 2014 spending plan, presented to the members of the legislature by County Administrator John R. “Jack” Searles, calls for total appropriations of $225,661,879 over the 2013 amount of $218,475,000, an increase of $7.2 million. The increase raises a problem, according to Searles. While appropriations are rising at that rate, revenues are moving from $167,441,000 to $177,200,000, an increase of $5.86 million. Some of that will be made up in the $52,354,000 prospective tax levy.

The budget process this year, according to Searles, has produced an interesting document with many intricacies and quirks.

“This year, I am pleased to acknowledge that department heads and their staffs have delivered very conservative budgets,” he said in his letter to legislators. “I believe that the early dialogue we had with departments and their staffs regarding the trends we are facing did help to understand key budget issues.”

The budget is the third under the New York State Property Tax Cap and has been completed within the cap number of $1,320,084. The cap number presented more challenges for Searles and his staff, in preparing the document. The amount allowable for increase is $239,129 less than the previous budget year. That restriction, coupled with unfunded mandates from higher levels of government create a volatile situation for making the most of the taxpayer funds.

According to Searles, $39,633,243 of the tentative budget will go toward those mandates.

“So you are aware,” Searles said to the legislators, “That number represents 75.7 percent of the tax levy.”

That means that less than 25 percent of the money paid in county tax by those with property in Cattaraugus County will be able to go toward programs such as law enforcement, roads, bridges or economic development.

Searles said there are 10 programs that are watched in his department to gage the mandate situation. Those are: Medicaid, Pensions/State Retirement, Community College Chargebacks, Public Assistance, Indigent Defense, Special Education, Probation, Child Welfare, Early Intervention and Youth Detention.

Over the next 21 days, meetings will be held to make changes to the tentative budget before a public hearing and adoption vote, set for Tuesday, Nov. 26 at 3 p.m., in the Third Floor Legislative Chamber at 303 Court St., Little Valley.