AUBURN | One word seemed to be on the Cayuga County Legislature's lips Tuesday evening: reluctance.

That hesitant, unhappy emotion seemed to color legislators' decisions as they voted to raise the tax levy by 4.35 percent in 2014 and approve the county's approximately $149 million budget.

After more than one months of cuts and additions, Chairman Michael Chapman motioned to raise the tax levy increase from 3.5 percent to 4.35 percent — the highest increase allowed under state law — before voting on the final budget.

Chapman asked legislators to consider making the increase as a way to make the 2015 budget less painful for residents and take less from the county's shrinking fund balance.

Although he acknowledged that the raise would not be popular, Chapman said failing to break up the increase would lead to even higher taxes in the future.

"You can be the hero today," he said. "But next year, you're going to be the most hated people on the planet."

County Administrator Suzanne Sinclair agreed, explaining that raising the tax levy by 4.35 percent would allow the county to put $300,000 back in its fund balance.

"I look at it as reducing the size of the hole we're in," she said.

Legislators Dave Axton and Patrick Mahunik argued that failing to approve the maximum tax levy increase would force the Legislature to shrink the county's expenditures.

Legislator Tucker Whitman did not like the idea of overburdening taxpayers

"I can't in good faith overcharge them this year to save them some next year," he said.

After an impassioned debate, legislators voted 8-7 to raise the tax levy by 4.35 percent. Legislators Whitman, Axton, Mahunik, Cynthia Aikman, Mark Farrell, Paul Pinckney and Steve Barski voted against the increase.

The raise constituted a hike from this year's 1.47 percent tax levy increase.

Before voting on the final budget, many legislators made suggestions about how the Legislature should handle its 2015 budget.

Farrell argued that the county needed to prepare to make inevitable sacrifices — a reality he wasn't sure all of his fellow legislators had accepted.

"I kind of feel like I'm looking at the scoreboard and seeing a certain score, and others are looking at it and they think we're winning the game," he said.

Legislator George Fearon advised incoming Legislature members that the county's economic future could only be improved by increasing revenue and cutting expenditures.

"There's no way around it not involving these entities," he said. "It's essential to address the issues and solve them."

In its final full act of the year, the Legislature voted 9-6 to approve the county's 2014 budget.

Legislators Chapman, Aikman, Whitman, Mike Didio, Hans Pecher, Joseph Runkle, Steven Cuddeback, Joseph Bennett and Tim Lattimore voted in favor. Legislators Axton, Farrell, Fearon, Mahunik, Barski and Pinckney voted against.

Get the latest local news delivered daily directly to your inbox!

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Staff writer Samantha House can be reached at (315) 282-2282 or samantha.house@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @Citizen_House.