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Poloncarz says 2022 Erie County budget plan reflects pre-pandemic levels, offers lowest tax rate since 1960

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz presents his 2022 budget proposal during a news conference Oct. 4, 2021.
Tom Dinki
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz presents his 2022 budget proposal during a news conference Oct. 4, 2021.

After calling his 2021 budget proposal the most difficult one he’s ever crafted, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz is more optimistic about his 2022 plan, citing rising sales tax revenue and what he says is the county’s lowest property tax rate in over 60 years.

Poloncarz revealed his $1.6 billion 2022 budget proposal on Monday. It’s a 6.2% increase from the county’s amended 2021 budget, which had to account forfalling sales tax revenue and eliminate jobs amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We're kind of on track back where we were prior to COVID, with regards to growth,” Poloncarz said during a news conference. “We usually see 2% to 3% growth [each year], and we had a huge cut, of course, with regards to the 2021 budget from where we were in 2020. It's primarily because of some great numbers that we're seeing with the rebounding economy and our sales tax.”

The budget proposal calls for a property tax rate of $4.33 per $1,000 of assessed value. That’s a nine-cent reduction from last year’s budget and, according to research by Poloncarz’s office, the lowest since the county executive’s office was established in 1960.

“It is the lowest property tax rate any county executive has ever presented to the people of Erie County,” Poloncarz said. “We haven't looked in the books to the 1930s or 1920s, but we know going back at least 60 years, it's the lowest property tax rate in modern county history.”

Some homeowners might still see a higher tax bill. Despite the lowering tax rate, the county’s total tax levy is expected to increase about 3%. That’s because of rising property value assessments, in addition to new buildings being added to the tax rolls.

The lowering tax rate versus the rising tax levy was a big point of contention during Poloncarz’s 2019 re-election campaign against challenger Lynne Dixon.

Poloncarz, as he did back in 2019, argued he’s keeping tax bills in check by lowering the tax rate amid rising assessments.

“If we just let the tax rate grow every year without addressing it, voting over the tax cap, and so forth, then taxes would be skyrocketing exponentially in Erie County,” he said, “but we are controlling it.”

The lowering tax rate comes as sales taxes revenue is increasing. It’s up 22% this year compared to 2020 when businesses were shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s also up 13% from before the pandemic, which can be attributed to a Supreme Court ruling that allows counties to make sales taxes on online sales.

Still, Poloncarz said the county is remaining conservative about future projections.

“We don't expect to get 22% growth annually. We never have. We usually have 2 to 3% growth,” he said. “We are expecting that after this kind of rebounding year, things will balance out, and we'll be back to 2% growth in sales tax for 2022.”

In addition to funding about 4,400 jobs, it includes a $6 million-a-year COVID response fund, a $9 million workforce development program for those receiving public assistance, and 14 new positions in the District Attorney’s office.

“There's a lot of services that county government provides to protect the welfare of our community,” Poloncarz said. “I think people found out a lot more about it in the last two years with COVID-19 than they knew before about a lot of the work that we did, and do, but now I think people understand a lot more.”

The budget must now be approved by the county Legislature within 60 days.

Tom Dinki joined WBFO in August 2019 to cover issues affecting older adults.
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