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Poloncarz releases "steady as she goes" 2017 Erie County budget

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

The proposed 2017 Erie County budget released Friday morning by County Executive Mark Poloncarz funds mandates while increasing allocations to art and cultural organizations and invests in anti-poverty initiatives, while offering a small decrease in average property tax rates.

Poloncarz described his $1.45 billion spending proposal as a "steady as she goes" budget that keeps Erie County under New York State's Tax Cap while funding state mandated services while kicking in a few more dollars for organizations including the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center and Buffalo and Erie County Public Library.

The library system will receive an increase of $469,000, while arts and culturals will receive an additional $225,000 from last year. The budget also invests half a million dollars for anti-poverty initiatives. 

Of the $55.6 million set aside for infrastructure improvements, nearly $24 million is slated for roads and bridges. 

Meanwhile, the average property tax levy goes down two cents to $4.94 per thousand dollars of assessed value. It keeps Erie County under New York State's Tax Cap and is possible, Poloncarz says, because economic developments are adding properties to the tax rolls.

"We're spreading the valuation out over the greater properties that now exist," Poloncarz said. "The four dollars and 94 cents per thousand is actually the lowest it's been since about 2008."
The budget includes more than $341 million in sales tax revenues. Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw says the budget is overly aggressive with its salex tax revenue projections. He also complained, in a written statement, that he had not received a copy of the plan, nor did he receive any sales tax revenue numbers from Poloncarz's staff.
His statement reads: “This morning, as required by the Erie County Charter, I released to the Legislature a report on the revenues and expenditures included in the County Executive’s proposed 2017 budget.  As has been the case for the last several years, the County Executive violated the charter and did not provide my office with the property tax revenue numbers that are used to balance the budget.  This violation of the law denied my office the necessary information to provide the Legislature a full and complete report.

"The County Executive’s 2017 budget is over-reliant on an expectation that sales tax revenue will grow by nearly $10 million next year when, to date, it has only grown $25,854 in 2016.  It is irresponsible to balance the taxpayer’s budget on a risky assumption like this.  It also concerns me that the County Executive has been involved in extensive talks with ECMCC about a smoke and mirrors borrowing scheme that will add almost $200 million to the taxpayer’s credit card which is supposed to be paid through a shady credit mechanism over the next five years.  His revenue and expense report was silent on this matter, meaning he intentionally didn’t provide the information or he intends to conduct this process outside of the county budget and behind closed doors.  Either is unacceptable and unfair to taxpayers.”

The Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Erie County Legislature's Budget Committee also released written statements. Like Mychajliw, Legislature Majority Leader Joseph Lorigo also complained of not receiving the budget prior to Poloncarz's news conference: "The Legislature did not receive any advanced information on the proposed 2017 Erie County Budget.  We saw it the same time as everyone else when it was posted on the county website. At first glance, I am pleased to see the tax rate has not increased, however there is more to the story. We cannot continue to spend more and more each and every year without justification, especially in light of the County's ever-increasing obligations to ECMC, as well as the continuing decline of sales tax revenue. The Budget Committee will be meeting with each department and elected office to review the proposed budget before voting on any amendments. First and foremost we will ensure that critical services are funded while respecting taxpayer dollars."
Legislator Edward Rath III, meanwhile, vowed that he and his lawmakers will work to approve a final plan that offers relief to taxpayers while ensuring adequate funding for critical services: "Today the County Executive proposed his ideas for a 2017 budget. Now it is The Legislature’s responsibility to improve on what has been proposed. This is a long process that takes several weeks before we will have a finalized budget. We are facing several financial challenges in preparing the 2017 budget, however we need to ensure that we prioritize public safety and critical services. The Majority Caucus has been committed to delivering a tax rate decrease to residents for the past two years. I believe we will make every effort to once again deliver tax relief when the process is complete. Between today and early December we will study thousands of budgetary line items to finalize a balanced and practical County budget."

Poloncarz, during his news conference, expressed confidence lawmakers will support his spending plan for the most part.

"I feel very confident that when they see this budget, they will be approving most of the budget, they will not have objections to most of the budget, like last year where they made minor changes," Poloncarz said. "Ninety nine percent of my budget was untouched. I feel very confident that it will be similar." 


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