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Lawmakers Need To Be Careful With The County’s Surplus Funds

Chautauqua County taxpayers received good news last week when County Executive George Borrello released a 2020 budget proposal that contains no increase in the county’s tax rate.

That means taxpayers won’t see an increase in the amount they pay to the county, which we’re sure is welcome news to taxpayers.

But, as we said last year in this space, don’t be confused about the fact that the county is increasing taxes. The county’s tax levy is increasing 2.72 percent. How did the county manage to raise taxes without raising the tax rate? The county is in the enviable position of seeing millions of dollars in new construction and an increase in property values in enough high-value areas that the county’s tax base has grown by $457,888,709 over the past year. Compare the county with the city of Jamestown, which is struggling to pay for even slight increases in spending because its taxable assessment either stays flat or goes down year after year.

The increase in assessment allows Borrello to increase the county’s tax levy without burdening more homeowners with a higher tax bill. Taxable assessments are much like a rising stock market in that both eventually stagnate or decrease. This year, Borrello is able to increase money for in-lake management activities on Chautauqua Lake, spend roughly $200,000 in additional local money to comply with the state’s early voting program requirements and expand its fly car program, all while using only $1 million from the county’s surplus.

Lawmakers should be careful in not further depleting the county’s surplus with unnecessary spending and certainly should not plan on large increases in the tax base in future years being available to pay for new spending. It’s easy to write checks now when property tax assessments are growing exponentially. When tax assessments stay flat and both the tax rate and the tax levy have to increase to pay for county programs, it’s a lot harder to cash those checks you’ve written in years past.

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