Drug Addiction And The County Budget

Recently, the County Executive announced that there would be a slight property tax increase in his proposed budget. It wasn’t a lot, 10 cents per thousand of assessed value, but we have become accustomed to county tax reductions over the past few years and so it caught my eye.

When I read further into the announcement, it became clear that the underlying increases were directly related to the drug abuse and addiction problem. There was an increase for the costs of incarcerating people in the jail, and new positions for the Public Defender and District Attorney. Why? Because individuals involved with drugs commit crimes, get sent to the county jail, and are then prosecuted by the DA and defended by the Public Defender.

Thus, if you thought you were among the lucky few not affected by the growing drug epidemic — guess what? If you are a county property taxpayer, you are affected now.

In a pristine world, one wouldn’t think much about a small increase in the tax rate. However, recent reports in this newspaper indicate that our population continues to decline. Since 2010, the population of Chautauqua County has declined from about 134,000 people to around 129,000. So fewer of us are around to pay this higher tax levy. The population of the county goes down, but the budget of the county keeps going up.

It is also my understanding that the budget of the County Coroner is overspent primarily because of autopsy and toxicology costs related to the growing number of deaths from drug addiction.

All of this is not to say that we should “pull wool over our eyes” or stop addressing the reality of opiate drug addiction. However, it is a statement in real dollars of the growing local financial cost of this epidemic.

It is also, in my opinion, a reaffirmation that the problem has gotten bigger than anything that can be solved in Mayville or at the local level. What is happening here is happening across the country. If we were to lock up every drug dealer in the county, addicts would go to Buffalo, Erie or someplace else to feed their habit. Trying to push the problem to another municipality is not an answer.

There is no easy solution to any of this but the financial cost of fixing it cannot be supported by the limited resources of a property tax levy. This is a time when our state and federal governments need to step up and attack the problem on a national level. Think of mobilizing for a war. This is a big problem.

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.

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