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County Ends 2019 In Favorable Position

MAYVILLE — The Chautauqua County government ended 2019 in a favorable position.

Kathleen Dennison, county budget director, told the Chautauqua County Legislature Audit and Control Committee last week that the unaudited financial results from 2019 had the county on the plus side of the ledger by more than $700,000.

These favorable financial results included a sales tax surplus of more than $1 million, Social Services Department in the black by $1 million, an additional $500,000 in federal funding for housing inmates at the jail, $500,000 extra in funding for CARTS for miles traveled and a positive line item of $335,000 for the Chautauqua County Tax Foreclosure Auction.

Even with the positive overall outcome, there were some financial deficits in 2019. The county received $1.45 million less in property taxes than expected last year. Dennison said the county experienced a similar result in 2018 because of delinquencies. The county also lost more than $450,000 on the county’s mobile emergency medical services program, also known as “fly-cars.” Dennison said the local share was budgeted to be zero, but ended up with a deficit. She said 2020 projections for the program continue to show a deficit.

“They will continue to struggle to break even,” she said.

In other committee business, there was a discussion on the possible creation of a new county position, safety coordinator. Kitty Crow, county finance director, said county officials have been discussing the possible creation of the new position for awhile. She said along with salary, creating the new position will also included implementation costs. Crow said comparable positions in other counties similar in size to Chautauqua get paid between $55,000 to $85,000 annually.

Crow said the safety coordinator would deal with safety matters across all county facilities, would examine the safety practices of all employees and would have a direct impact on lowering the county’s liability and workers compensation costs.

Chuck Nazzaro, D-Jamestown and committee chairman, said he understands the importance of the position, but questioned if this is the best time to add a new position. He suggested that the possibility of creating a new position should be done during the 2021 budget process.

Terry Niebel, R-Sheridan, added he would like to also hear from the PJ Wendel, county executive, to know if there is an immediate need for the position.

SALES TAX, BED TAX RENEWAL

Because the state Legislature might be in session shorter than normally because of the coronavirus outbreak, Chautauqua County legislators have started discussions on the renewal of 1% sales tax and 5% occupancy tax.

Stephen Abdella, county attorney, said usually its a two- to three-step process to renew the two taxes, but because the state Legislature’s session might end early this year, the renewal could be a part of the state budget process. He said the New York State Association of Counties has advised county officials to approve the necessary resolutions to renew the two taxes in the coming weeks in order to be completed by the state budget passage deadline of April 1.

Abdella said the state Legislature usually uniformly renews each municipalities sales and occupancy tax in three-year increments. He said, if approved by the state Legislature, county officials will have the authority to continue charging the taxes, but can make changes to the amounts if they decide.

Even though the breakdown of how sales tax revenues are distributed to the county and its municipalities isn’t a part of the proposed resolution, the committee did discuss how the funding is allocated. The county charges 8% sales tax, with 4% going to the state. Of the other 4%, 3% is split between the county and its municipalities. Of the additional 1%, half is divided between the county and its municipalities, with the county getting .35% and cities, towns and villages receiving .15%. The other half percent is kept entirely by the county.

For the occupancy tax, of the 5% charged, 3% of the revenue goes toward promoting and tourism in the county and 2% of the funding goes toward improving lakes and tributary streams.

The committee passed both resolutions to renew the taxes. The full legislature is scheduled to vote on the proposals at its voting session meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

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