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DUNKIRK — The Democratic candidate for Chautauqua County Executive is challenging Executive P.J. Wendel’s budget saying his opponent was wearing “rose colored glasses” when it was drafted.
Rich Morrisroe says that the budget “relies on unrealistic sales tax projections and property tax relief gimmicks.
The Wendel budget appears to have been drafted without the benefit of reviewing the NYS Comptroller’s report on challenges facing local economies due to COVID-19.”
“The Interim-County Executive was clearly wearing rose colored glasses when he drafted the 2021 budget. His proposal is a series of shell games and incorrect assumptions about sales tax revenue and the financial health of Chautauqua County,” Morrisroe said.
Morrisroe told WNYNews Now Wednesday morning that he understands that Wendel wants to be optimistic, but he called for caution.
“I think, in all fairness, his finance and budget team want to be optimistic” Morrisroe said. “Here, I think caution and the reality of the uncertainty of the current COVID pandemic require us to be cautious.”
A more in-depth look at the county departments must be done, Morrisroe explained.
“You really have to take a deeper dive into the departments to see things that can be diverted, things that can be cut or things that can be cancelled. There has to be deeper digging,” he said.
One problem Morrisroe sees is that entrenched department heads filter their department’s information to the County Executive.
“I’m not sure that information is either accurate or complete,” he said, adding that there have been county budget issues way prior to the COVID pandemic.
“We haven’t reduced expenses. The status quo is coasting us population and jobs,” he said.
“What I’m saying it is a status quo issue. A lot of the assumptions that were made on this budget is how we survived the pandemic from say June through July. Consumer spending was propped up by stimulus,” Morrisoe said. “That V recovery where the second half of the V is starting to bend, starting to flatten.”
Another issue is that the county has postponed county auctions on properties in the red.
“That means there’s that much less of collected tax revenue for localities and the county, a $3 million deficit in tax revenue. If we’re not collecting, it doesn’t matter what the assessment is.”
Morrisroe is calling for more conservative budgeting for the next few years.
“We have to, at least temporarily, and I would say for this budget and 2022, we have to budget more conservatively than we’d like (and) rework some of those numbers and build in what I call circuit breakers, what ifs.”
“At the end of the day there are so many what ifs that we just don’t have answers to,” he said.
Saying he remains “cautiously optimistic” that the county will get through the pandemic, he said even with businesses somewhat opened up, there is no rush to the opened businesses.
“Even in phase four, people are cautious. People aren’t rushing back into the store, they aren’t rushing into the malls, they aren’t rushing into the gyms. People are cautious because they are afraid,” Morrisroe said.
Morrisroe said he will improve Chautauqua County finances through meaningful changes.
Among his proposals are to conduct a department-by-department review to reduce unnecessary expenses and remove politically motivated management positions and duplicative programs.
He also calls for action to streamline services and expenses between and among the county’s 27 towns, 13 villages, two cities and county government.
In addition, Morrisroe said as county executive he would ask all political appointees to take a salary reduction until county finances have stabilized.
“I call on PJ Wendel to commit to reducing his salary and those of his political appointees until Chautauqua County finances have stabilized,”Morrisroe said.
Morrisroe also called for supporting existing businesses and local entrepreneurs by coordinating efforts of the CCIDA, & the JCC Small Business Development Center, and improving access to capital. He also would seek to attract new businesses “by aggressive targeted marketing, infrastructure improvements and improved workforce development.”
“A real leader would take a hard look the layers of bureaucracy dragging Chautauqua County down and make smart decisions. Instead, PJ Wendel is playing games. His budget tries to trick homeowners by lowering property tax rates while hiking up assessments, so their financial burden is greater than ever. It is irresponsible. People from Chautauqua deserve better,” said Morrisroe.
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