Chagnon Questions County Budgeting Decisions

MAYVILLE – Thursday morning’s Audit and Control Committee meeting was packed, as legislators caught up on business from other committee meetings throughout the week.

Although several resolutions were debated, certain agenda items were paid more attention than others.

Funding for the painting of county bridges was discussed, which would require a deduction of $84,000 (a 20 percent share) from the county budget’s D fund, which is designated for capital projects, in order for the county to accept the federal funding of $422,000.

“We just passed a resolution indicating a $12,000 shortfall,” said Pierre Chagnon, R-Bemus Point, referring to the possibility of Cornell Cooperative Extension remaining the sole tenant at the Frank W. Bratt Agricultural Center building at the expense of the county. “Here we are in the second month of the year, appropriating funds, when our balance is already low, and it indicates this funding wasn’t budgeted for.”

George Borrello, R-Irving, said he believed that taking money from a fund balance earmarked for the purpose seemed appropriate.

Furthermore, grant funding requiring a local match of $14,400 was discussed in order to receive federal money for the installation of a generator at the Jamestown Airport, which would be derived from the general fund.

“Do you have the same lack of concern with the A fund balance that you do with the D fund balance?” Chagnon asked Kitty Crow, budget director, who responded that capital projects involving roads and bridges are often off-cycle from the county’s budget cycle.

The budget’s A fund is classified as the county’s general fund.

Also, Crow said that the D fund balance is dedicated only to road and bridge maintenance, and cannot be used to support general fund operations.

“There is a distinction of which fund balance we’re using,” she said. “It’s not uncommon to amend the budget for airport projects. We do review what the impact is, and in this case, $14,400 wouldn’t be deemed as such a significant impact.”

Shaun Heenan, D-Dunkirk said he would be voting “no” at the committee meeting to the generator installation.

“I think $14,400 is quite a bit of money,” he said. “We’ve gone this long without (a generator).”

In response to Chagnon’s questions, George Spanos, director of public facilities, said grant money becomes available at the decision of the federal government.

“If we were to make a general rule that we have to budget for everything, there are two ways to do it anticipate from history and put money in there, or go through the process we have been following,” Spanos said. “It would be very difficult to anticipate grant funding.”

Chagnon responded that the majority of his experience is in the private sector.

“If I were in my private sector roll, faced with this type of decision, the question I would ask is ‘Where are you going to make up for it in your budget, so that it has zero impact at the end of the year?'” Chagnon said.

Crow and Chagnon agreed to meet at a later time to discuss budget shortfalls and surpluses.

Christine Schuyler, director of health and human services, attended the meeting to explain a resolution from Tuesday’s Human Services meeting, suggesting a new position in Mayville for a privacy/compliance officer to safeguard sensitive information involved with medical billing in the county. The position’s salary range is $43,131-$66,053.

“Could we consider moving this to next month?” Borrello asked.

“This is a risk, but as you understand, it’s my job and the job of the committee to make sure we minimize that risk,” said Vince Horrigan, county executive.

Schuyler stressed the urgency of filling the position.

“As long as we’re billing Medicaid for anything, we have to have a program and the officer is a requirement of that program,” she said.

However, the resolution was tabled at the request of the committee in order to gather more information.

“We’ll hold our breath for another month,” Horrigan said.

Barcelona Harbor

In other matters, Borrello said June 15 is the tentative date for Barcelona Harbor to be dredged. Within Wednesday night’s Planning and Economic Development agenda was a resolution, which if approved by the full legislature, would allocate funds from the county’s Lakes and Waterways Reserve balance for the dredging of recreational channels in Dunkirk at Sunset Bay and Cattaraugus Creek.

Whereas Barcelona Harbor is scheduled to be paid for federally, Borrello said it is of tremendous savings to allocate county funds in order to transport equipment required for the dredging, seeing as how it will already be available for Barcelona. An amount of $150,000 was designated in the resolution.

After the meeting, legislators had a conference call with Clarence Straham Jr., senior vice president of Crews and Associates, and Susan Marsh, director of finance, to discuss the county’s investment portfolio.

Straham said 2013 was a “violent and turbulent year for bonds.”

“I think this portfolio is getting to where I want it to be,” Marsh said. “Now, it’s just we need to understand our cash flow over the next three years.”

Additionally, she said interest rates took a dip in January, but things are looking up.

“The longer-term bonds were where we really got hit,” she said, further explaining that some of the bonds had been sold. “We’ll have cash flow coming in, and that’s the big thing. Chautauqua County has done better than other municipalites, with an average return of 5.1 percent for the past five years.”

Chagnon said Marsh’s approach to managing cash flow was “the right thing to do.”

The Audit and Control Committee will be receiving updates throughout the year on the portfolio’s status.

All resolutions will be voted on at the legislature’s regular meeting on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in the legislative chambers of the Gerace Office Building in Mayville.