Erie County approves annual budget with more money for roads, but not a full-time SWAT team
Erie County has a budget for next year, with more money for roads and bridges, county jobs, aid for city streets and no full-time SWAT team for the Sheriff's Department.
The vote was 10-1 in favor. Amherst Legislator Ed Rath was the sole"no" vote, despite efforts from members of his Minority Caucus to persuade him to make it unanimous.
"We're not going to have all 18 members full-time for over three years when the plan was laid out in incremental fashion," Rath said. "So, for me, on this budget, it's very difficult for me to support it without prioritizing the greatest public safety project we can accomplish in Erie County, which is a full-time SWAT Team."
Majority Democrats told the session the sheriff just didn't make his case to turn SWAT from its current part-time status over three years to 18 full-time.
"They have the same project that they have currently," said Legislator Howard Johnson. "We're not against this, but their presentation didn't suffice us to say, 'Hey, let's give them a SWAT Team.' Could they come back and clean that up? We're willing to entertain that, to take a look at it. But right now, fiscally, it doesn't sound like it's sound."
The sheriff did get some other positions and an offer to let him make the pitch again in the new year. The budget also gives Howard a new drug treatment program for jail inmates.
Outgoing Legislator Lynne Dixon said she reluctantly voted for the budget, as storm clouds brew because of state fiscal problems.
"We didn't address many of the priorities and that we, as a county, better be prepared for the $6-$8 billion deficit and what Albany's going to be handing down to us," Dixon said, "and it's going to impact us down the road and I hope we're prepared for it."
The budget totals around $1.8 billion, most of it controlled from Albany because of mandated Medicaid and welfare spending. That limits what money local legislators have to spend, once the local share of social services spending is added up.
There will be more money for roads and bridges, including $1 million for streets in the county's three cities, like maybe fixing up Franklin Street in front of the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center. While total taxes will rise, the property tax rate will be dropping.