Sheriff Receives More Money, Veto Unlikely
By Dennis Phillips
10/25/2007 - MAYVILLE — The Chautauqua County Legislature voted 20 to 5 on its 2008 budget, which increased appropriations to the Sheriff’s Department by $750,000.
Joseph Gerace, county sheriff, said the increase in funding should mean no layoffs for the department’s road patrol in 2008.
‘‘I’m very appreciative of what the legislature did (Wednesday),’’ Gerace said. ‘‘At this level, there would be no need to reduce staff. This is a victory for the people of Chautauqua County.’’
The increased funding to the sheriff’s department was one of four tentative budget amendments proposed during the meeting, which were heard for the first time as a legislative group because none of the changes were brought up officially during last week’s committee meetings or earlier this month during budget hearings.
As part of the amendment, which passed 19-6, to increase funding to the Sheriff’s Department, $33,600 in funding was restored to 4-H groups. During the public portion of the legislative meeting, several children and parents involved in 4-H spoke about the importance of the community organization and their personnel experiences, one young girl in tears.
Another change to the 2008 tentative budget was an appropriation of $783,600 from the county’s fund balance, or savings, to fund the Sheriff’s Department and 4-H groups, which also passed 19 to 6. The county’s projected fund balance for the end of this year will be nearly $14.5 million. Keith Ahlstrom, D-Dunkirk and legislative chairman who supported the amendment, said the county’s savings, when above the state recommended level, should be given back to its citizens for reasons like increasing funding to the Sheriff’s Department.
‘‘What better use for that money than to protect its citizens? What better way to use their money?’’ he asked.
Those who were against the increase in the amount of county fund balance used in the 2008 budget, which already was projected to use $1,940,000, said it goes against the county’s financial management policy. The county’s financial management policy is a guideline that reads after the state recommended amount is reached, 5 percent of the yearly county budget, or about $10 million, only a third of the remaining amount should be used to off set budget expenses. According to the financial guideline, only $1,700,000 of the county’s fund balance should be used in 2008. With the increase in appropriations made in the amendment, the county is set to use almost $2.7 million of its savings in 2008.
The third amendment passed by the legislature was to increase the amount of expected sales tax revenue by $300,000, which passed 15 to 10. Those who supported the amendment said the county usually runs a surplus each year, like the county’s $2.4 million surplus in 2006. Those against the amendment said it’s dangerous to overestimate how much potential revenue the county might receive next year.
The fourth amendment, which passed 14 to 11, decreased the county’s Public Facilities Department funding by $250,000 for engineering, administration, road and bridge maintenance, and snow removal. The department’s funding was already decreased by more than $2 million in the tentative budget, which eliminated nine full-time and five part-time positions. Chuck Cornell, D-Jamestown and majority leader, said the decrease in funding still leaves the department with an increase over a two-year span because the department’s funding was increased by about $1 million in 2007. Fred Croscut, R-Sherman and minority leader, voted against the amendment because he said it will threaten public safety, just like a decrease in road patrol officers.
‘‘Our residents like to see quality roads just as much as they like seeing a Sheriff’s road patrol car,’’ he said.