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Legislator upset over cost overruns on county projects

January 28, 2016
By Jimmy McCarthy ( , Westfield Republican

MAYVILLE -Several completed projects experiencing overruns faced criticism from the Audit and Control Committee and Pierre Chagnon, the new chairman, during a Thursday meeting.

Chagnon, R-Bemus Point, voted against resolutions to increase accounts for three county projects as he shared his desire for departments to stay within budget constraints. Overruns on a completed apron reconstruction project at the Dunkirk Airport totaled $1,235 in local-share costs. The remaining expense for the $24,696 overrun will be paid by the Federal Aviation Administration and the state.

A project to upgrade the HVAC system at the Mayville complex buildings and the Chautauqua County Jail went over budget by a total of $195,912. The Department of Motor Vehicles relocation in Jamestown in August exceeded the budget by $15,000.

Despite the unforeseen circumstances, Chagnon said the legislature expects departments to operate within the budget and explore cost savings. Chagnon said the legislature has the authority to appropriate money as stated under the county's administrative code. The code reads that no county officer, employee, department or programming administrator shall expend or contract to expend any money amount that would exceed the budget during a fiscal year.

The resolutions each garnered a 2-1 vote from the Audit and Control Committee and passed through the Public Facilities Committee during Monday's meeting. Resolutions will go before the County Legislature next week.

"When we have a budget, we live in the budget," Chagnon said. "That's what our taxpayers want. The legislature is given the responsibility to appropriate money. All that I'm asking is that we be given the opportunity to discharge our responsibility and work together. We don't want to delay the project and we want to avoid more costs, but we still have responsibilities."

The $4.5 million HVAC project saw overruns as a result of unexpected asbestos abatement work and implementation of a new pump to reach required flows at the jail, among other unforeseen expenses. Larry Barmore, county clerk, said a portion of the costs associated with the DMV's relocation, $4,300, was due to the unforeseen movement of camera equipment committed solely by state officials.

In response to Chagnon's concerns, County Executive Vince Horrigan said taxpayer dollars are carefully scrutinized and safeguarded. New policies and procedures could be examined on projects, the budget and county operations as long as there are no excessive delays and added costs.

"We try to fine tune projects, but as you know, unintended consequences come into play," Horrigan said.

In other matters, the committee approved to provide $50,000 to the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency to grow and attract tourism-related businesses. The funds were included in the 2016 budget.

Committee members also approved to adjust the Health and Human Services Department's accounts to cover expenses exceeding the budget. According to Christine Schuyler, public health director, safety net assistance expenses exceeded initial budgetary estimates by $900,000. Schuyler said the department must pay 71 percent of the program's costs that are designed to provide assistance to eligible individuals and families. Schuyler said the department was fortunate to cover the expense by finding savings through Medicaid.

"Our share for Medicaid was lower than budgeted," Schuyler said. "We used to pay 50 percent of the costs (associated with safety net), but the state arbitrarily changed it to 71 percent. It hurt every county in the state and they're not showing any desire to change it."



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