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County Starts Voluntary Furlough Program

Chautauqua County government has started a voluntary furlough program to save money because of the financial impact of the COVID-19.

On Wednesday, Chuck Nazzaro, D-Jamestown, discussed the voluntary furlough program while describing the need for county officials to reduce its budget because of the loss of revenues as a result of COVID-19.

Nazzaro said 139 county employees volunteered for the program. He said the furlough program will run from May 21 to July 31, which is the last day currently employees will be eligible for the $600 a week federal bonus from the CARES Act for being unemployed. He added that the county employees who participated in the program will still have their health insurance.

Nazzaro said county officials are still calculating how much money will be saved via the voluntary furlough program.

“I expect it to be a fairly large number,” he said.

Nazzaro also discussed the need for the legislature to approve the resolution, which it did, making cuts to the 2020 budget. He said county officials are estimating they will lose at least 10%, or $4.1 million, of the expected 2020 sales tax revenues because of the pandemic.

“Ten percent is a low estimate and, most likely, it will be at least twice that,” he said.

Last week the resolution to cut this year’s budget was discussed during an Audit and Control Committee meeting. Kathleen Dennison, county budget director, said the proposed cuts is the outcome of several weeks of work by the COVID-19 finance response team. She said, last month, PJ Wendel, county executive, had requested that all department heads make local share cuts to their budgets of 15% to 20% because of the loss of revenues, mainly sales tax.

Dennison said the proposed budget cuts reduces the spending plan by more than $4 million, which is a 6% reduction in local share.

On Wednesday, Nazzaro said the resolution to make the budget cuts is probably the first of several similar proposals.

“We will have more (budget cutting) resolutions coming before us,” he said.

The legislature also approved a motion calling on Congress to provide direct aid to local governments. Last week during the Audit and Control Committee meeting, Pierre Chagnon, R-Bemus Point and legislature chairman, said all legislators are concerned about the impacts of the COVID-19 on the local businesses and taxpayers. He said there is also concern about the loss of revenues and the potential reduction in state aid to local municipalities.

“The impacts of this could be devastating this year and long term,” he said. “We’re requesting that the federal government assist with local financial aid to help us weather the storm.”

The legislature also approved a motion to request that the state provide more CARES Act Funding to day care providers. Prior to the motion being approved by the legislature, Beth Starks, Chautauqua Lake Child Care Center executive director, had submitted a letter to be read to the legislators about the need for more funding to day cares.

Bill Ward, R-Mayville, said providers participating in child care programs should receive more funding from the state.

“There will be no reopening without day care,” he said.

It was stated that state Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, and state Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Jamestown, have also sent letters to state officials asking for more funding for day care providers.

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