MAYVILLE - County Executive Greg Edwards will veto any budget change which eliminates the county's capacity to deliver services for seniors or veterans.
"I'm confident the taxpayers of the county would support having those sorts of services continue," Edwards told The Post-Journal on Monday.
In his Monday Morning Memo yesterday, Edwards responded to several of the changes proposed by the legislature's Democratic minority. The Monday Morning Memo is a digital newsletter which the county executive writes each week.
Among the 13 changes proposed during last Wednesday's budget meeting were cuts to the county's Youth Bureau, Office for the Aging and Veterans Services. The cuts are to eliminate 50 percent of each departments' local shares - reductions which Edwards says will be devastating to the departments.
In his e-mail and on the phone Monday, Edwards outlined his three major concerns - that the cuts are too drastic, that a proposal to defer retirement payments only adds on to the county's debt and that some legislators wanted to act on the 13 changes without input from department heads.
"Shocked" was how Edwards described his reaction to the changes proposed by Minority Leader Rudy Mueller, D-Lakewood, on behalf of his caucus. He continued on to criticize Scot Stutzman, I-Jamestown, who wanted the legislature to consider the cuts last Wednesday rather than waiting a week.
"There are some core services you have to provide," Edwards said of the departments on the chopping block. "But any cuts have to be analyzed. You can't just say you're going to cut by $7 million. That looks to me a lot like grandstanding."
Edwards went on to chide the Democratic minority for bringing so many cuts to the table last Wednesday, not during the budget review process which happened now almost a month ago.
"What frustrates me is that my department heads were there in the room and if these cuts were being contemplated, they should have been discussed then," Edwards said. "That's what the committee process was supposed to be. If legislators had these cuts, my department heads stood ready to answer any questions they might have."
Come this Wednesday, county officials will have had a week to digest the 13 proposed changes to the 2011 budget. The legislature will meet at 6:30 p.m. in its chambers on the third floor of the Gerace Office Building to hear from the public as well as department heads on the budget.
ON CUTTING DEPARTMENTS
In his Monday Morning Memo, Edwards outlined his say - that the cuts will eliminate virtually all of the county's Veterans Services department, cutting the staff to only the department's director and one part-time secretary. Additionally, Edwards said the Dunkirk office will close as a result of the cut and the van service to Buffalo and Erie would have to end. A total of $600,000 in claims were filed in 2010, but only about 10 percent of that could be done in 2011 with such a reduced staff.
A 50 percent local share reduction to the Office for the Aging would mean the end of the delivery of approximately 200,000 meals by Meals on Wheels. Additionally, more than $1.3 million in state and federal grant dollars would not be coming to the county as the local matching dollars will have been cut.
"Virtually all of the other cuts are equally egregious and not in the best interest of the long-term needs of county taxpayers," Edwards said of the rest of the proposed changes.
"Chautauqua County is pretty fortunate that no matter where any senior citizen lives in this county, they can get Meals on Wheels delivery service either by Meals on Wheels of Jamestown, Meals on Wheels of Dunkirk-Fredonia or the Sinclairville 76ers," said Barrie Yochim, executive director of Meals on Wheels of the Jamestown Area.
Yochim addressed the legislature during its 2 p.m. budget hearing last week. In addition to his position locally, Yochim is the state Meals on Wheels Board vice president.
"There are counties in the state, counties nearby us, that can't deliver to every single person who wants or requires meals in their communities," Yochim said. "We can say that here currently because of the Office for the Aging. The money we get from the Office for the Aging helps provide meals in our community. ... If there is any reduction or elimination of money in the Office for the Aging, that will affect Meals on Wheels .
In addition to cuts, the proposed changes include reducing retirement expenses in 2011 by deferring payment.
That, according to Edwards, will cost the people of Chautauqua County more than $900,000 in tax dollars down the road.
"It's just not logical," Edwards said. "There is no way that I'm going to lock the taxpayers of Chautauqua County into paying an unnecessary $900,000 in interest when we have the money necessary to pay the bill."
The county executive's Monday Morning Memo can be found online at the county's website, www.co.chautauqua.ny.us.