It's about as easy to put together a county budget for 2021 as it is to figure out how soon there will be enough COVID-19 vaccine around to take care of everyone who wants it. Chautauqua County Executive P.J. Wendel submitted his budget for next year to the County Legislature Wednesday.
Wendel's budget is a mix of squeezing operations into greater efficiency, adding a few positions here and there, trying to keep up roads and bridges and hoping for better times. It is a budget the county executive will use as he seeks election to the position he holds by appointment.
Putting a budget together this year requires figuring out if the county's battered tourism industry will come back and if Albany will cut cash flowing to counties. Wendel said it is even more complicated by increased property assessments and the tax cap.
"The tentative 2021 property tax rate is $8.41 per $1,000. Again, $8.41 per $1,000. This is $o.05 below last year's rate, but still $0.12 above the tax rate needed to stay under the tax cap," he said.
While most people think of the tax cap as 2%, it isn't. Wendel said the tax cap for next year is actually 1.56%.
In the end, however, the county executive said the budget is good for residents.
"No reduction in services. A return to normal road maintenance. The additional fourth fly car. Addition of a safety coordinator. Conservative sales tax budget. A conservative occupancy tax budget. An $11 million investment in capital projects and heavy equipment," Wendel said. "We're able to accomplish this tentative budget without reducing services any of our county residents rely on, including a normal road maintenance schedule."
Wendel said there is stability in the spending side of the budget because all county union employees are now under contract. He told the legislators the county has to get through this year, when COVID-19 has already forced a $4 million cut in spending.
"We're going to return our sales tax and occupancy tax levels to a pre-COVID-19 level. We're leveraging grants to enhance our services without creating long-term dependency on grant funding. We're going to be navigating the changing directives and/or funding from New York State and continuing to deliver the same services as effectively and efficiently as possible," he said.