MAYVILLE - County budget work is going to begin early this year.
And along with starting the process earlier, nothing will be sacred in 2012.
Those were two of the messages Greg Edwards made clear in his sixth State of the County address Wednesday night.
Addressing the county's legislators and others assembled, Edwards listed some of the successes and challenges that county businesses saw in 2010. He then segued from speaking about success and opportunity to the reality of Albany's impact on the county.
"Over the past two decades," Edwards said, "officials in Albany have been making decisions and handing the bill to Chautauqua County and each of the other 61 counties in New York state. The state has been designing programs, increasing benefits and expanding services with an apparent complete disregard for the costs. "The result has been and continues to be," Edwards continued, "that counties like ours have to pay these bills with ever-increasing local fees and taxes."
Edwards continued on to say that local costs have been cut by county government in the last five years, non-tax revenues have been generated, insurance has been reduced and "virtually every way to reduce our costs" has been looked at in order to pay the increasing amount of money Albany demands each year.
County Executive Greg Edwards is pictured giving his State of the County address Wednesday in Mayville.
P-J?photo by Nicholas L.?Dean
Chautauqua County legislators are pictured listening to County Executive Greg Edwards’ State of the County address.
P-J photo by Nicholas L.?Dean
"I'm here to tell you tonight that I join with Todd Tranum and the Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce," Edwards said, "with Unshackle Upstate, the Business Council of New York State, the Chamber Alliance of New York State and many others in their call for fiscal responsibility in Albany and an end to unfunded mandates."
In a series of slides, Edwards detailed how much Chautauqua County's costs have gone up in recent years and how much revenues have fallen. In 2012, Albany is requiring more to be paid by the county - an increase of $16.6 million, according to Edwards. To shore that up would mean eliminating all the services which the county has control over or an outright 28 percent increase to property taxes.
"As a result of these undeniable facts, it's clear to me that we will have to take action," Edwards said. "We will have to eliminate much of our non-required services and return our sales tax rate to 8.25 percent which existed in 2006 when our costs were much less. The only other choice is to raise property taxes to make up that share. Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of thinking that Albany is going to help us in this situation. The governor's budget does not reduce the amount of money demanded of us. In fact and instead it will increase the total local dollars taken from us by Albany by millions of dollars. We do not have the luxury of using our rainy day funds because those have already been taken by Albany in previous years. No, we must create the solutions to these challenges in 2012."
To address the issues facing the county "and to avoid the budget theatrics that played out during our last two budget meetings," Edwards said he intends to do four things - instruct department heads to put together budget analyses from a zero base, develop quarterly indicator reports, examine the viability of the County Home and the county's two airports and continue to examine what can be eliminated, consolidated or merged within the county.
Department heads will present their zero-based budget analyses to the committees of the legislature in the next six months, Edwards said, long in advance of his budget coming out.
"These efforts will eliminate arguments that our legislators do not know the cost, value and impact of the services delivered by county operations," Edwards said. "It will make sure that the impact of any proposed cuts made at budget time are immediately apparent."
The full text and slides of the county executive's State of the County can be found online at the county's website www.co.chautauqua.ny.us.