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How big is Erie County's budget deficit? We should get the answer today

With Erie County's budget for next year a month away, county legislators will find out Thursday morning how this year's budget is going.

It is an old problem: the county has more going out than coming in during this year of COVID-19, despite $150 million federal dollars coming in from the CARES Act. County Executive Mark Poloncarz said recently that $115 million has been spent on virus costs, including computer access in schools for remote learning and for day care as workers want to go back to work. Budget Director Robert Keating will talk to the Finance and Management Committee about all this.

County Control Board Executive Director Kenneth Vetter said the control board is satisfied with county finances right now.

"The county's doing pretty well, given the situation out there. It's in better shape than many, I'd say most municipalities, counties, cities, towns, villages out there," Vetter said, "and we have a high degree of confidence that the county will do what's necessary to balance its budget."

Legislature Chair April Baskin disagrees with those who say that Washington won't eventually step in for a state and local government bailout.

"I can see how a lot of people can take that position after what we have seen in news headline and play out before our eyes, but as it stands right now, the county has received over $150 million in CARES Act funding and this body having the time to make sure we have proper oversight of what we do have is something that is very, very important," Baskin said.

Legislature Minority Leader Joseph Lorigo said the Poloncarz Administration allows so little transparency in spending, it is hard to figure out where the budget stands. Lorigo wants some CARES Act federal dollars spent on bailing out small businesses that are in rough shape.

"We went through a number of different conversations about how big the deficit might be," Lorigo said. "The county executive started out by saying it was $237 million and he lowered it to $180 million. Then he lowered it to $90 million. Now we're at $80 million. So he's not being fully transparent with what's going on and it's our job as legislators to sort of keep an eye on county finances and make sure that we're representing taxpayers well."

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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