It might be a bit of glasnost in the Genesee County Legislature, a weakening of the hard line legislators have taken against a tax increase for the past few years.
The oft-repeated word by the nine legislators during an impromptu budget discussion Wednesday was "tweak," as in, "tweak the current rate just a little bit."
"I think all of us have an interest in keeping the rate the same," Legislator Hollis Upson said. "One thought I have been pondering though is that with the 2-percent tax cap, I could be persuaded to let some expansion take place just a little bit. I'm not so worried about this budget, but the lack of control we have on mandates and what that means in future years. I'm a little concerned about holding the line so close that it puts us in a straitjacket or requires large cost cuts that must come from somewhere.
"I've got to the point," Upson added, "where I can tolerate a little bit of a tweak, as little as possible, and only after exhausting every other opportunity to cut costs."
Several other legislators also said a "tweak" might be exceptable, some even after taking a hardline stance in favor of cuts and against any tax increase.
"I still say there's room among our labor force to where there is still fat that can be cut," Legislator Jay Grasso said.
Grasso expressed concern that some department heads haven't been willing to step up and say what cuts they would be willing to make to help the county trim as much as 5 percent in spending.
"As much as I support public safety, that has to be looked at as well," Grasso said. "If we look at aggressive, across-the-board cuts, everybody feels the pain. If there are cuts, no department should be spared."
While offering tepid support for "tweaks," he also said he was concerned that any rate increase would send the wrong message to Albany -- that Albany can keep pushing unfunded mandates on counties knowing that if they must, counties will just raise taxes.
If a "tweak" means staying under the 2-percent tax cap, then the county could only generate only $500,000 in new revenue. Several legislators and County Manager Jay Gsell acknowledged that's just a drop in the bucket compared to the potential shortfall the county is facing.
"We need to get to $136 million (in spending) and even I think that is highly unrealistic," Gsell said.
The county has cut spending by 30 percent over the past few years. But with about 90 percent of the county's budget going to unfunded mandates, and costs rising year after year on those mandates -- primarily Medicaid and pensions, it's getting to the point where the only cuts left to make are to essential services.
"As a former mayor of Oakfield, I'm very conscious of our aging infrastructure," Legislator Ray Cianfrini said. "We're still wrestling with our water tower issue. If we keep putting off spending on infrastructure, we're only kicking the can down the road and putting of the inevitable.
"When I look at the damage caused by Hurricane Irene and the roads washed away and the bridges collapsed, I think 'that can happen to us.' Our bridges aren't safe and our roads barely meet standards. If we don't have the money to (take care of infrastructure), then I would not be opposed to tweaking the rate to see if we can generate some money for that."
Cianfrini also expressed concern about some funding inequalities creeping into the budget. For example, he said, the DA's office now has the same staffing levels as the public defender's office. However, the DA's office handles 100 percent of the criminal cases in Genesee County, while the public defender's office only handles cases for clients who can't afford a private attorney.
The County Clerk's office also came under scrutiny.
Last year, County Clerk Don Read argued that since his department creates revenue for the county, it should be exempt from cuts. Cuts, he argued, would diminish his department's ability to generate as much revenue.
"Why shouldn't they be asked to do more with less and then generate more money that might be applied someplace else," Legislator Bob Radley said. "Just because you pay your way shouldn't mean that you shouldn't be asked to help us along the way."
Radley is also worried about the county continuing to subsidize the nursing home at $2 million per year.
"Something needs to be done about that," Radley said.
Legislator Ed DeJaneiro said that while he supports holding the line on the tax rate, he is concerned about the damage being done to the county.
"It will get to the point where we're lessening the quality of life in our community via our nursing home, our health and safety and our infrastructure," DeJaneiro said. "Our infrastructure will be compromised if we don't stay on top of what we can do and our law enforcement will be compromised."
Only Legislator Bob Bausch spoke at length about ways to raise revenue other than a tax increase. His idea -- a marketing campaign to encourage people to spend more of their dollars locally instead of in neighboring counties.
"I have suddenly become very aware of where the heck I buy my gas," Bausch said. "I buy a lot of gas every week for my personal car and my company cars. If I'm going from Bergen to Perry or from Batavia to Perry on my typical runs, I'm buying a lot of gas."
Bausch suggested if more people who travel out of county were conscientious about buying their gas closer to home, it could help generate a good bit of extra money for the county government, taking pressure off the legislature to raise taxes.
"These things start to add up," he said.
"I'm the last person who is going to tell my wife not to go to the mall in Rochester or Buffalo and not to buy clothes," Bausch said. "I fear for my own life. But when you look at the day-to-day things we buy, it starts to make a difference. We need to get that word out there."