MAYVILLE - Despite talk of an impending budget deficit, the county continues to spend.
That was Keith Ahlstrom's concern at the legislature's regular April business meeting last week. It's an issue the Dunkirk Democrat has brought up before and will likely repeat as 2012 inches ever closer.
In specific, Ahlstrom voted against three resolutions - one to authorize the purchase of land, one to take money from contingency and another to approve the funding of 18 occupancy tax projects. Other Democrats did join him in opposing two of the resolutions, but he was the only legislator to speak out. His comments later tied in with the proposal before the legislature to ask for an increase to the county's sales tax rate.
County legislator Keith Ahlstrom, D-Dunkirk.
Passed in a 15 to 7 vote, the County Legislature is asking the state to approve a home rule request to take the local rate to 8 percent. Currently at 7.5 percent, the rate is scheduled to drop to 7 percent on Dec. 1.
"For the last six months, I've been voting 'no' on things from $5,000 to $10,000 to $80,000 tonight," Ahlstrom said. "I have a problem in giving the ability to raise additional funds when this legislature keeps saying, and legislators have said it tonight, that 'We're going to make the difficult choices. We're going to cut to the bone. We're going to do this. We're going to do that.'
"Well, we haven't done it," he continued. "We haven't done it on the easy ones, when we could have said, 'No, right now you're not going to get this $10,000' or whatever. We could have been preparing for the future instead of just looking for revenues."
CHAUTAUQUA COUNTY LEGISLATURE
THE EASY ONES
The first spending resolution which Ahlstrom objected to last week was one to authorize the purchase of lands adjacent to the County Airport in Dunkirk for a runway project. The resolution, which was approved by the legislature, enables the county executive to offer $69,800 for five parcels.
"We have an airport commission studying whether or not and how we should be in business and we're spending $69,000 on a project to improve it," Ahlstrom said.
He continued on to criticize the legislature's decision to take $80,000 out of contingency for a bridge project, which was the second spending resolution he voted against.
"(It's) a bridge project that I'm sure is very worthwhile that we have to do, but we're spending, in April, $80,000 out of contingency," he said. "We started with $300,000 in contingency funds in a $200 million budget and tonight we're spending $118,000 of it because, Resolution 79-11, which I meant to vote against ... also spends money out of the contingency.
"That's a new practice for the legislature," Ahlstrom continued. "There's no rules on this as it's perfectly legal, but we've always had this sort of agreement that we wait until the second half and even into the last three or four months of the year before we hit contingency."
On the resolution to approve 18 waterways projects , Ahlstrom stressed that his opposition had nothing to do with the merits of the projects, but the fact it's money being spent by the county.
"We should be saving some of this money to deal with some of the problems that we're going to have in the future," Ahlstrom said. "This money has to be spent very specifically, I understand that. ... But we should not be, just because it's there, spending all of it. If it takes changing our rules to do it, if we have to pass a resolution to have a bigger reserve, then whatever it takes.
Those are the types of things that we should be doing on a regular basis at our meetings to prepare for 2012 instead of just looking for additional revenues," he continued. "Let's make some decisions that actually save some of the money that we have now to pay for some of our problems in the future."
Ahlstrom ultimately voted against the sales tax resolution, even though he said he agreed with Majority Leader Larry Barmore, R-Gerry, that the 2012 deficit is going to require more than just what the legislature can cut in order to balance the budget.
"My main reason," Ahlstrom said of his opposition, "is because I haven't seen the legislature or the administration give me any confidence that it can do the hard work. And if we don't have this (sales tax increase), we'll have no option but to do the hard work."