MAYVILLE - Chautauqua County legislators want to stay inside the lines when it comes to drawing up a budget for 2015.
Under the guidance of County Executive Vince Horrigan, legislators are preparing for budget season while also taking into consideration fiscal restraints for the next five years.
"It's my responsibility to present the budget, but I don't do it in isolation," Horrigan said after Thursday morning's meeting of the Audit and Control Committee. "My strategy is to engage the legislature early on, and we're doing that by providing early insight into unfunded costs and mandated costs. I believe it's important as the county executive to share our position and our thinking with the legislature because they have good ideas too."
Horrigan said the county is looking at a budget deficit of $7 million, which will require a decrease in expenses, an increase in revenue or some combination of both.
"We have to get back to a balanced budget," he added. "We don't have to do it in the next six months, but we have to get it done in the next two years."
Closing a deficit of $7 million over the course of one year would require a 15-percent hike in property taxes.
"That's unrealistic," Horrigan said. "But, I think it's pretty clear - the picture that's out there. The balance sheet is tight, and there aren't any trucks that are going to be rolling in with extra money."
Medicaid services are among the extreme, unfunded costs to the county Horrigan mentioned. Medicaid services were also discussed at Thursday's meeting by Christine Schuyler, director of human services, and Carmen Hlosta, Medicaid director.
While local municipalities pay for 25 percent of services received by those on Medicaid, including a visit to the hospital, the state pays for 25 percent and the rest is federally funded.
"If you want to decrease local costs of the Medicaid programs, it's not administration, it's the cost of services, $32 million of which we paid out of our local tax dollars in 2013," Schuyler said.
Additionally, eligibility requirements have changed under the Medicaid program and the Affordable Care Act. The combination, along with the state's plan to take over Medicaid administration by 2018, is causing a rise in costs.
"That's where it gets into pressures on the budget," Horrigan said.
Clear budget projections are difficult to make just yet, seeing as how the county has yet to settle a new contract with the CSEA union representing the majority of county employees.
The CSEA contract will be the last of four negotiated labor contracts since Jan. 1. It will also be the most complex.
New contracts have been approved for county sheriffs and corrections officers.
The third labor contract of the year, an agreement for the Sheriff's Supervisors' Association, was also discussed Thursday and must receive full legislature approval next week in order to take effect.
The association is composed of eight upper-management lieutenant supervisors who oversee deputies under the supervision of county Sheriff Joe Gerace.
"I think it's a very fair contract and provides significant savings and high-deductible health care plans," Horrigan said.
Joe Porpiglia, director of human resources, said voluntary employee participation in high-deductible health plans would save the county $78,570 over the course of the contract.
Legislator Chuck Nazzaro, D-Jamestown, commended Porpiglia for his efforts to negotiate the contract.
"This is great," he said. "It gives us some guidelines when going into the budget process."
For a period of employment from Jan. 1, 2012, through Dec. 31, 2016, the contract will cost $98,474 to the county if approved by the full legislature at next week's meeting, which will take place on Wednesday in the legislative chambers of the Gerace Office Building at 6:30 p.m.
John Runkle, R-Stockton, and George Borrello, R-Irving, were absent from Thursday's meeting.