Borrello Finalizing First Tentative Budget As County Executive

Chautauqua County Executive George Borrello

County Executive George Borrello isn’t wearing a poncho and a cowboy hat looking for “A Fistful of Dollars” like Clint Eastwood in the famous movie Western.

He is, however, looking for a “Bushel Full of Pennies” as he prepares his first tentative county budget.

Borrello, who is in his first year as county executive after spending eight years as a county legislator representing the area of Hanover and Silver Creek, said it is different being the lead administrator who is responsible for preparing the spending plan instead of being one of 19 legislators who await the release of the budget.

“I was on the Audit and Control Committee for four years and I chaired the Planning and Economic Development Committee for four years. It is different preparing the tentative budget,” he said. “It is kind of like I’m putting all the puzzle pieces together while the legislature makes sure all of those puzzle pieces are in the right place.”

Borrello, who founded Top-Shelf Marketing and grew the business into a nationally-recognized supplier in the hospitality industry before retiring to be county executive, said government and business aren’t run the same, very different in fact, but some business principles can be applied to both, especially during the budget process. He said when he first met with department heads and staff, he told county employees about his bushel full of pennies theory.

“A penny by itself isn’t worth much. Most people wouldn’t even bend over to pick one up on the sidewalk,” he said. “But if you fill a bushel full of pennies, there is about $332. Every little increment makes a difference. We’re approaching a county budget of about $230 million, with thousands and thousands of line items. I asked the staff to bring their pennies to fill our bushel, and they did. I was really impressed with all the small incremental savings brought forth by different people. I challenged them and they really stepped up.”

Borrello said county officials started the budget process with a $4 million structural deficit. He said his budget goal is to use no fund balance and to have a spending plan under the state tax cap.

“The goal has to be to cover recurring expenses with recurring revenue and to do it without a burdensome tax increase,” Borrello said. “A balance budget means using recurring revenue to cover recurring debt. It is important to have a savings account for the unexpected, but not to cover recurring expenses.”

After accounting for state mandates and employee salaries, health care and retirement costs, Borrello said county officials have control of about 15 percent of the overall budget. Even though he is thankful for the state and federal governments, who help with grand funding and money for infrastructure, he would prefer to have 100 percent control of the county’s spending plan. The reality, however, is county officials are restricted in how they can use funds to provide the necessary services county residents expect.

“The county government runs very lean. There is no fat there,” he said. “Many of our departments are short staffed. Case in point, the (district attorney’s office) and the public defender with the number of cases they are handling. No department runs inefficiently. When we make cuts, it is painful.”

The last two months, Patric Swanson, county district attorney, has requested to the County Legislature Public Safety Committee for an increase in his budget of around $80,000 to hire an additional attorney, so a more experienced prosecutor in the office can more effectively handle major narcotics cases. Borrello is in favor of the proposal and wants to input the additional funding in the budget for the additional attorney, but he is also interested to see how the County Legislature will react to the request.

“It is a touchy subject for the legislature. I was a legislator last year and we did approve money in the budget for a narcotics prosecutor,” he said. “The legislature cannot dictate how money is spent. They can only make a request. Ultimately it is up to the head of the department. Last year, the Audit and Control Committee did allocate money for a special narcotics prosecutor, but the district attorney (Swanson) chose to use it elsewhere. I’m curious to see how the legislature will react. I think if they do it they will want a guarantee from (Swanson).”

When asked how to remove politics from the county budget process, Borrello said he doesn’t believe that will be an issue for the current governing body.

“I’m very proud of the legislature and county government as a whole because I believe there is no political bias. In the last four to five years, I can only think of one time when a vote in the legislature broke down party lines,” he said. “When there is a disagreement, it is in principal and not about politics. A way to avoid (politics in the budget process) is to do the right thing, always. To do what is in the best interest of the taxpayers and the stability of our county.”

Borrello said the 2019 budget proposal will be released publicly during the County Legislature meeting at the Gerace Office Building in Mayville, which will start at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 26.