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Erie County property tax hike tossed out

WBFO News by photo Mike Desmond

A proposed property tax increase was removed in the adoption of the Erie County budget Tuesday night by the county legislature.  Making big cuts in County Executive Mark Poloncarz' proposed spending plan, an alliance of six legislators tossed out the tax increase. Poloncarz was calling for a 3.4 percent property tax hike that would have raised $8 million.  The county executive said he now has to start making changes like a hiring freeze and cuts to take effect with the new budget because he says it's a bad spending plan. 

Democratic legislator Tom Loughran joined forces with republicans and voted with the minority caucus.  He said it's a reasonable budget. 

"This economy...it's still vulnerable.   We're in recovery and I think these amendments are in the best interest.  There's probably no area in the country more representative of the middle class than Erie County.  And, I think these amendments are in the best interest of the middle class," said Loughran.

Poloncarz said legislators didn't want to make tough decisions.

"They said well I'm not going to do the hard decision. We're just going to hope things work out and let the county executive fix it.  And, I will fix it. I will do what's necessary to ensure the budget balances," said Poloncarz.  "If they don't want to act like adults, I will. And, at the end of the day I will ensure that this budget balances by taking the steps that are necessary so that at the end of the day we don't have a deficit." 

Credit WBFO News photo by Mike Desmond
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz meets with reporters after budget vote

Poloncarz said if he did nothing, the county would start on the slope to a fiscal disaster similar to the 2004-2005 "red/green" budget crisis.

Poloncarz said anything could  be cut, whether cultural spending or road and bridge repairs.  

County Legislature Chair Betty Jean Grant attacked a cut in what's called the "safety net program", with Republicans saying they are actually slowing the increase in a mandated program not cutting.
Grant said she grew up poor and hungry and doesn't want others to be.

Credit WBFO News photo by Mike Desmond
Erie County Legislature Chair woman Betty Jean Grant during Tuesday night's budget vote

After Democrats made a series of speeches trying to put a face on those who need public assistance, Legislator Lynn Dixon said she worries about other faces.

"I also put a face on a senior citizen on fixed income that is doing everything they can to hold on to their home. They can't afford a dime more in taxes. I'm also thinking of the business owner that is being taxed to death and is finally thinking about closing up shop and leaving leaving not only their business and themselves without their business but the people who work for them," said Dixon.

But without the property tax increase, Poloncarz said he hopes the Erie County Control Board doesn't turn from soft to hard over this budget. 

"Conversations I've had with Control Board members indicate that they believe there are problems with these amendments as proposed. I'm certain now that they have been passed they will say there are problems with these amendments. I hope not. I mean the last thing we need is to go back to a hard control board. It's not in the best interests of the community to have a hard control board especially when we're talking about key economic development projects moving forward," said Poloncarz. 

Poloncarz said he will veto the relatively small increases and immediately start to cut the spending he can to make up for changes in his original spending plan.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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