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Financial Consultants Say More Could Be Saved from County Budget

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – The Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority still doesn't have an approved four-year plan before them. But that hasn't stopped Control Board members from adding new ideas into the mix.

The Control Board's financial consultants wrapped up the proposed plan a few weeks ago. It included 159 ideas of how the county could save or generate money. But wait, there's more. The PFM group told the Control Board last week they think they've found tens of millions of dollars more in potential savings. In some cases, however, the idea isn't new, only the dollar amount affixed to it.

Control Board member Sheila Kee says the fact that the money, in some cases, is already added in concerns her a bit.

"Since we're already assuming $830,000 in 911 surcharges in next year's budget, we'd better be darn certain that happens," Kee said. "It's got to happen immediately or we're going to be out of balance by $830,000."

The 911 surcharge still needs the state's authorization. Lawmakers have not yet asked. Nor have they requested a home rule message for probation fees that are included in the budget. But PFM Consultant Scott Quehl says by year's end they could have a handle on significant potential savings that won't need state approval. He says the county's advanced computer system will soon be able to provide detailed information about the efficiencies of each and every department and program.

"It certainly won't be PFM's role to be recommending the addition or subtraction of entire programs," Quehl said. "That's purely a policy judgement. But (we're offering) to have a tool available to policy officials so that they can decide which programs should be done away with."

Also not yet included in the bottom line are more dubious initiatives that need state approval. But Quehl says they are definitely worth asking for. He says the county could save more than a hundred million by changing its purchasing procedures.

And PFM now likes a Buffalo Niagara Partnership idea to phase out Erie Community College's $15 million subsidy by what it called "freeing" ECC from the county.