LITTLE VALLEY — Many Cattaraugus County lawmakers were pleasantly surprised to learn that the $248.5 million tentative 2021 county budget contained a tax cut.
County Administrator Jack Searles briefed the Republican and Democratic caucuses on the tentative budget earlier this week. The budget, with a full value tax cut of 83 cents, was released to the public on Wednesday.
The budget is $2.1 million less than the 2020 county budget of $250.6 million. The proposed full value tax rate of $11.50 per $1,000 represents a cut of 83 cents, or 6.7%.
Finance Committee Chairman Andrew Burr, R-Gowanda, said he was pleased with the tentative budget, particularly keeping the tax levy flat at $54.4 million.
After the second quarter’s sales-tax receipts plunged during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, Burr said they have rebounded in the third and fourth quarters.
The sales-tax receipts may yet reach their 2020 targets, he said.
“Sales taxes have been very strong” since the region began reopening in June, he said. “They rebounded in the third and fourth quarters. The second quarter looked ugly.”
Burr is looking for a return to normal in sales taxes next year after, as has been expected, a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available.
The pandemic also put the brakes on elective surgeries and other medical costs that would have been paid from the county’s self-funded health insurance program. That surplus will roll over into the general fund surplus, Burr said.
Burr also noted that legislators helped reduce costs by requiring department heads to justify filling positions, including openings resulting from retirements and promotions. He estimated those savings added up to more than $2 million — and that’s one reason there were no layoffs proposed in the budget.
Another factor contributing to the positive budget news was the 7.2% increase in full-value assessment in the county to $4.8 billion. The assessment increased by more than $325.5 million from 2020.
Part of that came from an increase in the assessed value of state land in the town of South Valley, while much of the rest came from up-to-date assessments of property by the county Department of Real Property Tax Services. That department has taken over assessment duties from an increasing number of towns in the county, Burr said.
The Finance Committee chairman was also very satisfied to see the largest capital program in the county’s history in the budget. The $17.2 million capital program was a priority for Burr, who is also supportive of the $2 million in additional money Searles had included in the budget for targeted paving programs.
There’s one more potential 2021 revenue that wasn’t included in the county budget: a possible settlement between the Seneca Nation and New York State over casino revenues which the Senecas have withheld for the past three years in a dispute over compact language.
The Senecas have challenged the 2-1 decision of an arbitration panel that ruled the tribe owed $225 million in back casino revenue.
The county and City of Salamanca used the local proceeds to make up for the loss of property taxes on Seneca-owned property in the city. Seneca-owned properties on the territories are tax exempt. The county also used some of the revenue for economic development.
Budget review begins Monday at 3 p.m. with the Labor Relations and Human Services committees, followed on Thursday at 3 p.m. by the Development and Agriculture, County Operations and Public Safety, and Public Works committees.
The Finance Committee review is set for Nov. 19 at 6 p.m. in the County Legislature chambers at the County Center in Little Valley.
A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Nov. 24 at 4 p.m. The Legislature will vote on the budget following the public hearing.
The tentative tax rates on assessed value included in the budget, followed by the percent increase or decrease follows:
• Allegany — $12.10, -1.84%
• Ashford — $23.47, -4.85%
• Carrollton — $14.37, -5.58%
• Coldspring — $11.50, -6.74%
• Conewango — $22.55, 0.57%
• Dayton — $11.50, -6.75%
• East Otto — $11.61, -7.69%