LITTLE VALLEY — Financially, 2020 was a great year for Cattaraugus County.
In his annual report to county lawmakers, County Treasurer Matthew Keller reported a more than $6.28 million fund balance or surplus in the county’s general fund for 2020. The 2020 budget totaled $250.6 million.
Keller said he couldn’t remember a fund balance for a year being that high since he was a member of the County Legislature.
The fund balance at the end of 2020 totaled more than $54.73 million, including more than $45.45 million that is undesignated and can be used for any purpose. The surplus at the end of 2019 was nearly $48.45 million.
Keller detailed major drivers of the surplus:
• There is a $1.2 million surplus in the self-insurance fund because fewer people went to the doctor during the year of COVID-19.
• There was a $2.4 million savings after the funds appropriated to reduce the tax rate in the 2020 budget were not needed.
• The Treasurer’s Office revenues came in over budget approximately $3 million thanks to sharply higher interest on investments and a $700,000 surplus from the annual property tax sale.
• The Social Services Department came in about $2.7 million under budget, including about $1.4 million in lower Medicaid costs.
• The County’s General Accounts revenues were over budget $1.35 million, including $650,000 from the CARES Act and $450,000 from shared services revenue.
Keller also told county legislators that, following a meeting with Moody’s Investor Services last week, the county’s bond rating remained unchanged at Aa3. That is the third year the county’s rate remained at that level and puts the county is “a very strong position.”
As a result of the county’s financial standing, the county was able to refinance 10-year-old bonds, mostly from the Pines Nursing Home in Machias at a $1.2 million savings.
The rate on the new bonds was 1.01% as compared to the old rate of 4%, Keller explained.
Keller said there were 25 companies who bought the bonds. The competition was so fierce that half-way through the same, the county stopped it and raised the price.
By reducing the bond debt from $10.5 million to around $9.3 million, the annual savings will be around $100,000 over 12 years, the treasurer said. The Pines bond savings represent about $75,000 of those annual savings.
County sales taxes rebounded in the third quarter and was 10.7% above initial projections. The county’s share of the state’s online sales taxes will probably grow to $1 million this year, Keller said.
Of the $40.9 million in sales taxes collected by the county in 2020, $17.5 million went into the county’s general fund and $11 million went to the county road fund. Another $11.4 million went to municipalities as their share and $960,000 went to reduce town tax rates.
In other financial news, legislators unanimously approved a resolution sponsored by Finance Committee Chairman Andrew Burr to formally accept $14,784,835 in federal funding from the CARES Act.
The first installment of $7,392,417 is expected very soon. County lawmakers have not yet begun to publicly discuss what to use the funding for.
Legislators accepted a $266,407 bid from Northwest Hardwoods, Marinville, Pa., to remove ash trees from a county forest in the town of Humphrey. The ash trees are under assault from the emerald ash beetle and are being removed while they are still valuable.
The county has removed more than $1 million in ash trees from its forests over the past two years. Proceeds are being used to further manage the forest and for recreation projects such as kayak launches.
Legislators also authorized Chairman Howard VanRensselaer, R-Randolph, to sign documents with the state Health Department to allocate more than $2.82 million to the county health department the to enable schools districts to establish COVID-19 screening testing programs to support and maintain in-person learning and financial assistance to the county for Reopening the Schools Project.
Legislators approved a resolution to hire two full-time assistant public defenders, a paralegal and a junior accountant in the Public Defender's Office with funding from a state grant expanding Hurrell-Harring Reform Grant for Counsel on Arraignment, Quality Improvement and Caseload Relief.