For years, the Chautauqua County budget has controlled county legislators.
A proposal discussed recently by the Audit and Control Committee could help legislators lead the process for a change.
The idea is the brainchild of Charles Nazzaro, D-Jamestown, who told fellow Audit and Control Committee members recently he feels the county's budget process is rushed and doesn't give legislators enough time to make educated decisions. Legislature committees meet for a week in early October to discuss the budget with corresponding department heads. Then, during that same week, the Audit and Control Committee hears each budget plea and proposes adjustments. Those adjustments are then discussed until the budget is passed at the full legislature meeting in late October.
"I'd rather have more face-to-face time with the finance people," Nazzaro said. "The last several budgets, we sit here all week, and actually we made very few changes. ... At the end of the day, I feel, 'Gee, what did we do? Nickel and dime a few things?'"
Nazzaro proposes having committees meet with department heads from Sept. 30 to Oct. 4. Instead of having Audit and Control Committee meetings that same week, Nazzaro recommends having the Audit and Control Committee meet the following week, giving other committees an in-depth chance to review the budgets and make their own suggestions.
The 2013 Chautauqua County budget is 247 pages long. There is much information in a document of such length. It's no wonder many legislators had trouble making anything more than cursory suggestions given the whirlwind week of budget meetings with department heads. We understand that many legislators hold full-time jobs during the day, which doesn't leave a lot of time for contemplation of a complex budget during a week of double meetings.
It's worth noting the rushed budget process is the legislature's own doing. No one else controls the legislature's time. The county charter only requires a budget be passed by Nov. 10 - it doesn't state legislators have to sprint through the process. All that was needed was a legislator to realize there was a problem and show the will to fix it.
Nazzaro's suggestion makes sense and should be adopted.