As I stated in an earlier post, I recently attended a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Buffalo Niagara titled “Who Needs County Government and Why?”. The four featured speakers discussed the history of county government in New York State and the services delivered to county residents.

90% of Erie County’s $1.2 billion budget is mandated by the state and federal government, services by law that have to be provided. I understand the importance of these mandated services but I question whether it is necessary to have an entire separate branch of elected government oversee the discretionary expenditure of $120 million.

If you view the minutes of the Erie County Legislature there is not a whole lot going on. There is very little to do regarding the budget as 90% of it is mandated, there are very few local laws passed and their meeting agenda consists of largely receiving and filing coorespondence.

Instead of an Erie County Department of Social Services you could have this department be part of the New York State Department of Social Services. The same could be done with the County Health Dept, Sheriff’s Dept. etc. Parks and Public Works could be taken over by the state or by towns to address county parks and roads in their jurisdictions.

Attorney Jim Magavern stated at the League of Women forum that he supported democracy and having local elected officials make decisions. I support democracy as well but the point is that there is not much for county elected officials to do other than pass symbolic resolutions that seek to generate support and name recognition for re-election to office.

Consider these facts below and express your opinion as to whether we really need county government.

Erie County has a County Executive, County Comptroller, County Sheriff, County Clerk and an 11 member legislature to do the following:

  • The county budget totals $1.2 billion of which only $120 million is controlled by the county. 90% of the county budget is mandated by the state and federal government. (Source County Comptroller Mark Poloncarz)
  • The legislature’s amendments to the county executives proposed budget in 2010 consisted of $8.2 million, .007%, not even 1% of the total budget. (Source County Comptroller Mark Poloncarz)
  • In 2011 the legislature changed $5 million of the county executives proposed budget again not even 1% of the total budget. (source
  • One of the important powers of the county legislature is to pass local laws. In 2011 the county legislature passed 3 laws, in 2010, 2 laws were passed. (Source
  • While very few laws were passed in 2011, 393 resolutions honoring individuals and community groups were passed! (Source
  • Connecticut, Rhode Island & Massachusetts have eliminated county government by transferring programs and services to the state, cities and towns. (Source, 5/31/11)
  • In March of 2010, Robert Bondi after 19 years of serving as Putnam County Executive questioned whether a county executive and county legislature were needed and whether a less expensive form of government can do the job. (Source 3/11/10)
  • The wealthy county governments of Rockland, Suffolk, Nassau and Westchester are all experiencing serious budget crisis. Erie County government is operating under a state imposed financial control board.