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Further Cuts To County Budget Are Likely Painful, But Necessary

Chautauqua County legislators took a necessary first step last week by creating a voluntary furlough program for 139 county employees.

The move dovetails with the availability through July 31 of federal CARES Act unemployment benefits and employees will keep their county health insurance. This round of furloughs could save about $4 million, a 6% reduction in the county budget’s local share spending.

As we said, it’s a good and necessary first step.

The problem, as was so well framed by Legislator Chuck Nazzaro, D-Jamestown, is that sales tax revenues are projected to decrease at least $4.1 million, or 10%, from what was budgeted at the start of the year and Nazzaro sees that 10% number as a low estimate. County Executive PJ Wendel has asked department heads to find 15% to 20% cuts to their local share budgets.

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

Nazzaro has long been a respected voice when it comes to county finances, so we hope his fellow legislators and county residents are paying attention to Nazzaro’s words. The gradual reopening of the county economy won’t erase the county’s sales tax losses, but it won’t be known for a bit yet just how bad the damage is. Left unsaid, though, is the realization that each round of cuts or furloughs will get increasingly difficult. Eventually, there is no fat left to cut — and cuts into the meat of county programs will leave county residents screaming about changes to programs they rely on each day.

We hope county legislators don’t take the route being taken by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has pushed back detailed information on cuts to schools and other local programs while hoping for additional federal aid. That approach assumes additional federal aid is coming, a notion that shouldn’t be assumed as fact given the state of politics in Washington, D.C. A preferable approach is to control locally what can be controlled so that we aren’t relying on the federal government to balance our budget — or at least so that we are lessening our reliance on state and federal aid.

Cuts to the budget will be painful, but they are also necessary.

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