Proposed Erie County budget keeps property tax rate steady
It represents a spending increase of less than one percent from the previous budget year and holds the line on property tax rates. But the 2016 budget proposal released Thursday by Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz still raises questions and concerns by some.
The approximately $1.5 billion budget holds the property tax rate at $4.99 per thousand of assessed value. That rate, according to Poloncarz, is the lowest in the county since 2008 and one of the lowest county property tax rates in all of New York State.
It even provides a little relief, he announced, because the county's tax rate does not exceed the state's tax cap.
"In 2016, property owners in Erie County as well as the 37 municipalities that submitted a plan with us, will be receiving a rebate check," Poloncarz said. "We would not have received a rebate check if we had exceeded the tax cap."
Overall spending increases by 0.73% over 2015. It provides $53 million for capital projects, including an approximate $28 million in spending for road and bridge work. The road fund increases by about $2.5 million.
It also provides more than $460,000 in additional funds to the library system, raises spending for culturals, and increases support for Erie Community College by $245,000 to a total $16 million commitment for the school.
While there are small increases for what he called "people's mandates," Poloncarz told reporters this budget is not the typical election-year proposal which throws money around.
"Every year I've been county executive, we've ended up with a small surplus. Very small surpluses, but a small surplus," he said. "We've done it because we've ensured the public's needs are met. But we're not just going out there and doing those election year types of things. That happened in the past, and truthfully drove Erie County's finances in the gutter."
Immediately after Poloncarz hosted his budget unveiling on the 16th floor of the Rath Building, Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw held his own news conference five floors below to provide his thoughts. He praised the budget for elements including lowered welfare spending while providing funds to hire more narcotics officers to tackle the county's heroin epidemic. But he also raised concern about what he described as dipping into the county's "rainy day" savings to address costs.
It's a model, he says, even the county executive acknowledges is not a sound long-term spending practice. According to Mychajliw, it's a practice which got the county into financial trouble leading up the "Red-Green" crisis about ten years ago.
And with sales tax revenues down this year, and a weak Canadian dollar threatening to keep sales tax revenues down, Mychajliw is concerned for the county's future fiscal strength.
"The budget projects next year's growth to be one-point-four percent," he said. "That's actually double what the growth is right now. If the Canadian dollar continues to decline and continues to weaken, there could be a problem pertaining to the Erie County budget."
Shortly after both news conferences concluded, the Erie County Legislature's majority caucus released a written statement by Legislature Chairman John Mills.
It reads: "It is my understanding that members of the media were once again given an advanced preview of the budget while members of the Legislature have not yet seen it. I look forward to reviewing his proposal once our copies are delivered. The Majority Caucus has proven you can deliver the services people expect while still providing tax relief. That will again be our goal. The County Executive has yet to propose a budget with a tax decrease in his tenure and while that is disappointing, the Majority Caucus is ready to get to work for the residents of Erie County."
The Legislature must now review the budget and vote on a final spending plan by December 8.