MAYVILLE - First drafts of the 2013 county budget are currently being reviewed, County Executive Greg Edwards said Tuesday.
County department heads are meeting with Edwards and his budget team to review the early drafts. The county executive expects to have a tentative budget in place by the legislature's September monthly voting session.
"This is the seventh one I've put together so I know what to expect," Edwards told The Post-Journal of preparing the tentative budget. "We once again have to deal with the increases forced on us."
The county executive said he has met with five department heads as of Tuesday, and so far has been impressed with the budget drafts. Although there is "little left to cut," each department is looking at its bottom line.
"Each one of them has done an excellent job," he said. "They've cut every non-mandated expense and are maximizing people they work with. It really shows how good they are at their jobs.
"It boils down to that everything that could have been cut was done two years ago. Last year we cut deep into our operations that people count on us to do."
Although the county executive performs multiple budgets in advance, it wasn't until his State of the County Address in March that lawmakers first caught glimpse of a looming $13 million to $14 million budget deficit in 2013.
The culprits: state-mandated programs such as Medicaid, rising pension contributions and costs pushed from the prior year's budget. Almost $3 million of the projected deficit is the result of "costs pushed back from the 2012 budget," Edwards said in his yearly Mayville address.
"Our Medicaid payments are going up," he added. "Pensions across New York state, not just Chautauqua County, will have gone up by 2,400 percent from 2000 to 2014. We are having to do more with less."
Edwards said some county infrastructure projects have been scaled back or eliminated as the result of recent deficits. He also noted in March that without any help from the state, property taxes could rise by as much as 23 percent.
Nonetheless, tensions are growing.
"There is a level of frustration that we can't do everything we want to, such as improve our roads and bridges and help our veterans," he said. "There is frustration there with what we have to do."
Asked what kind of cutbacks the county would need to stay under budget, Edwards said, "It's too early to tell. We have reached a time where there is very little wiggle room left."
"What I can promise is that I will have a fiscally prepared budget in time for the people," he continued.