Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz formally presented his Fiscal Year 2013 Proposed Erie County Budget (“Proposed Budget”), which maintains the quality of life programs and services demanded by the public amid increases in State-mandated costs and reduced revenues.
“2013 will be the County’s most challenging budget year since the ‘Red-Green’ fiscal crisis due to a ‘perfect storm’ of new State-mandated expenses and significant declines in revenues,” said Poloncarz. “However, when I was elected last November, I heard the message loud and clear: the public demands certain quality of life programs and services be funded—regardless of Albany mandates. As such, today, I present a Proposed Budget that will maintain and, in some cases, enhance these services in a responsible way, while acknowledging the hard fiscal realities facing us.”
Specifically, the 2013 Proposed Budget:
- · Makes good on a promise to safeguard our Public Library System from politics and ensure stable funding levels by increasing the System’s tax levy beyond the pre-Collins-cut level to $22.172 million;
- · Provides $5.570 million in cultural funding ($148,000 increase over 2012 Legislature restorations) through a new, revitalized process based on need and merit;
- · Maintains 2012 funding levels for two of the County’s most popular programs—rodent control and the summer youth education and anti-crime program, Operation PrimeTime;
- · Maintains vital public safety services like the Sheriff’s road patrol; and,
- · Fully invests in our aging infrastructure by (1) increasing the pay-as-you-go Road Fund by $700,000 and (2) increasing the Capital Budget to $39 million to address our deteriorating roads, bridges and parks.
The almost $1.385 billion General Fund in the Proposed Budget represents a 2.1 percent ($30 million) increase in spending over FY-2012 due, almost exclusively, to increases in State-mandated costs, including:
- · A $17 million increase in fringe benefit costs, which is driven by an 8% increase in health insurance expenses, an 11.3% increase in pension payments, and an increase in workers compensation expenses;
- · An $8 million increase (to $219.7 million total) in the County’s Medicaid share, which actually exceeds the phased-in growth cap implemented by the State by $4.1 million because of an additional mandated payment this coming year; and,
- · About $3 million for the 45 new sworn deputy and correction officer and 3 civilian positions mandated by the NYS Commission of Correction in their report released earlier this year (first 15 positions created in July).
Poloncarz added, “Counties in New York are required by state law to pay for more than 40 mandated programs, which for Erie County accounts for approximately 90% of our annual budget.”
Coupled with these increased costs, substantial decreases in revenues are projected, including, for the first time in more than a decade, negative property assessment growth resulting in $5.1 million in lost property tax revenues originally anticipated for 2013. The County will also lose millions of dollars in grant funding and reimbursements for services like probation, foster care, the County’s crime lab, homeland security, and public health due to State and Federal aid cuts.
In order close a more than $30 million budget gap created by the “perfect storm” of increased mandate costs and reduced revenues without sacrificing the quality of life programs the public demands, the Proposed Budget includes an “all of the above” approach that calls for (1) an across the board reduction in departmental spending that includes cutting of 63 positions (10 occupied), (2) the use of $5.4 million in Fund Balance, and (3) a modest property tax increase for the first time since 2009.
The Proposed Budget will increase the property tax rate per thousand from $5.03 to $5.21—a $0.18 increase. Even with this increase, Erie County’s property tax rate ranks among the lowest in New York State, and substantially lower than many neighboring and comparable counties’ 2012 rates such as: Monroe ($8.99), Chautauqua ($9.22), Niagara ($7.36), Onondaga ($5.56), and Genesee ($9.89).
For the average Erie County homeowner with a house assessed at $100,000, this means their County property taxes will increase $18 to $521 per year.
This 3.4% increase will provide Erie County with $8.09 million in new revenue ($2.3 million of which will go to restoring the Public Libraries’ levy to the pre-Collins-cuts level) and keep the County $2.29 million below the County’s property tax cap; more than a dozen other New York counties have already indicated that they may override the cap.
Poloncarz added, “For less than the cost of a ‘2 for $20’ dinner special at Applebees, and coupled with targeted departmental cuts and a responsible use of fund balance, we have ensured that we have a responsible budget that meets the financial challenges presented to us while residents continue to get the quality of life programs that they have demanded from their County government.”
The County Legislature now has until December 4th to adopt the budget, including any changes they wish to incorporate. Should the County Executive veto any items added or increased by the Legislature, the Legislature will have until December 11th to approve any veto overrides before the budget is considered adopted.