Not good enough!

That’s our reply to Niagara County Manager Greg Lewis’ proposed 2006 budget.

The spending plan raises property taxes by 5.52 percent, slashes 48 jobs, cuts funding to outside agencies and reduces county spending by $1.8 million.

But it’s not really a 5.5 percent increase — it’s closer to 11 percent.

That’s because the Legislature is restructuring its future tobacco payments, which is expected to generate about $20.5 million. The money would be put toward the county’s debt, an obligation that would otherwise be met with general county tax funds.

In the end, the $20.5 million lessens an otherwise double-digit property tax increase by half.

To their credit, the Legislature is applying the tobacco money toward its debt rather than something like a new multi-million dollar county campus.

But it still leaves us with one question — what happens next year?

County lawmakers — and managers — need to get to the root of the problem and acknowledge there is an 11 percent property tax increase in the first place.

We know, we know, state mandates are a big factor in the increase. But they’re not the only factor.

For example, in order to get the 2006 budget down to a 0 percent tax increase, Lewis said he’d have had to cut 56 additional positions within the county.

It’s not an easy thing to do, but sooner or later the tough choices are going to have to be made and the cuts will come. At some point Niagara County’s government is going to have to shrink the same way its population has. And there’s no time like the present.

So now we look to the legislators. They have until Dec. 20 to adjust the spending plan. They’ve let us down in the past, but we remind them that sooner or later they’re going to have to make tough choices and we challenge them to summon the courage to do it now.

Continuing with incremental tax increases every year isn’t good enough. It isn’t good government. It isn’t serving the best interests of the public.

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