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County Exec Candidate Critical Of New Hires

Norm Green, the endorsed Democratic candidate for Chautauqua County executive, is criticizing the incumbent for adding more than 40 employees in the proposed 2022 county budget.

Green believes the budget is “unsustainable without future tax increases.”

“The statement by the Legislature’s finance committee chair defending PJ Wendel’s budget plan to add 42 employees as returning our county payroll to pre-pandemic levels is obviously not true,” said Green in a news release. “In 2017, the county adopted a general fund budget for 1,159 employees. The 2022 proposed general fund budget, five years later, is funding 1,252 employees. We will have nearly 100 more on the county payroll from five years ago, and 42 of the hires are in this year’s budget. Where is the return to pre-pandemic levels?”

In a phone interview Thursday, Wendel called Green’s comments “rhetorical opposition” and doesn’t believe he’s sees the full picture.

In 2020, Wendel said the county employment went down by eight full-time people. This year, it’s going up 42 positions. A number of those positions, Wemdel said, are being paid for by federal or state grants or will generate additional revenue, and won’t rely on property or local sales tax. He did admit that some positions will use general county funds, but he didn’t say how many would, adding that he didn’t have that information immediately available.

In his press release, Green noted that the cost of new employees will continue to grow. “Not only do these new hire employees receive the annual wage increases negotiated by their unions, but so-called step increases as often as six months into an employee’s tenure mean the cost to the taxpayers increases quickly. These future costs are also not reflected in the current budget,” he said.

Wendel said any new hire was discussed at length with the department heads to make sure they wouldn’t be a burden. “When I sat with my department heads, I told them if you’re going to add FTEs (full time employees) make sure they’re funded,” he said.

Wendel also noted that the county property tax rate continues to drop under his leadership. The 23 cent per $1,000 assessed value drop will make the property tax rate the county’s lowest in more than a decade and one of the four lowest in the last 22 years. “That says something how we’ve been fiscally responsible,” he said.

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