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County Officials Spar Over Budget

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – Erie County Comptroller Mark Poloncarz Wednesday called into question whether or not the proposed 2009 budget is balanced - or even in accordance with standard accounting principals.

Poloncarz said that County Executive Chris Collins did not account for likely cuts in state aid and the possibility of negative sales tax growth. And the comptroller said expenditures are likely reported below what will actually be needed in a number of areas. But Poloncarz said the most glaring problem was Collin's failure to record a $16 million intergovernmental transfer payment owed to the Erie County Medical Center over the next three years.

Collins vigorously defended his budget.

He called the comptroller's calculations unrealistic and pessimistic. Collins the ECMC payment Poloncarz cited wasn't known about until several days after Collins presented the budget. Collins said the comptroller's remarks could jeopardize a deal pending with ECMC that would essentially wipe out the payment obligation.

ECMC Vice President Thomas Quatroche confirmed that the hospital is eager to work with the county to enter into an agreement. But he said there isn't any specific agreement yet. Quatroche said they need a legal opinion as to whether or not such negotiations are appropriate, since the payments are required by the federal government for indigent patients.

The Comptroller said, regardless of that opinion or any future deal, Collins should have included the payment in his financial plan.

Poloncarz called on lawmakers to sort it all out. Finance committee chair Kathy Konst said they will meet at 10:30 Friday morning with officials from the county, the comptroller's office and ECMC.

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