Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz presented his Fiscal Year 2014 proposed Erie County Budget (“Proposed Budget”), which holds the line on property taxes, yet maintains the quality of life programs and services demanded by the public despite a challenging budgetary climate. The Proposed Budget also includes investments in infrastructure, economic & workforce development initiatives, cultural & tourism programs, libraries, and health & social service initiatives, among others.
“The 2014 Proposed Budget addresses the significant needs of our community at a time when Erie County faces tremendous opportunities along with fiscal burdens,” said Poloncarz. “This document underscores my administration’s commitment to providing the services that taxpayers demand, reaffirms our promise to invest in and enhance the programs I identified as necessary ‘Initiatives for a Smart Economy,’ and highlights our ability to hold the line on property taxes despite increases in State-mandated expenses and declines in revenue. Careful stewardship of taxpayer dollars and close scrutiny of spending has resulted in a Proposed Budget that recognizes and copes with our economic realities while also making targeted investments building toward a stronger future for Erie County.”
The Proposed Budget takes into account the availability of necessary resources and places a premium on the collaboration of identified partners in recommending the pursuit of several initiatives included in the “Initiatives for a Smart Economy,” including:
- Providing additional operating funds for the Buffalo Convention Center and Visit Buffalo-Niagara, new funding for the Buffalo Niagara Film Commission-WNED to support cultural tourism and development, and $500,000 in new capital funds for a needs analysis of the Convention Center;
- Designating nearly $68,000 in new funding for cultural organizations following a rigorous and competitive funding process that strengthens the County’s overall commitment to cultural and arts agencies;
- Allocating $2 million for brownfield redevelopment in Erie County, in addition to providing new funding for workforce development initiatives and summits;
- Providing $100,000 in new funding for the creation of a new Greater Toronto area economic development office to assist Canadian and foreign companies to locate businesses and industries in Erie County, such as the Welded Tube investment in Lackawanna;
- Providing $5 million for work at Erie Community College to bolster College science, technology, engineering and mathematics (“STEM”) programs and educate future leaders in the vital science disciplines, and
- Creating the position of Energy Officer for the Erie County government to help the County reduce costs on electricity, natural gas, and other fuels while operating more efficiently and in an environmentally-conscious manner.
Poloncarz added, “With these initiatives, we are leveraging existing resources and partnerships to build capacity in areas that will be critical to the County’s future growth. By carefully targeting investments and wisely using available funds, Erie County will function as the lead agency in creating a more vibrant local economy.”
The Proposed Budget also demonstrates the administration’s commitment to funding the “People’s Mandates,” those programs that residents expect and demand and that encompass a wide spectrum of County services. Included among these are a reinvestment in Buffalo & Erie County Public libraries that adds $415,867 in new operating funding and $250,000 in new capital funding for the purchase of a new bookmobile; $2 million in 2014 funding, pursuant to the $1 million in 2013 funding, for the rehabilitation of greenhouses at the Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens; over $36 million for operating and infrastructure investments on highways, roads and bridges throughout Erie County; continuation of the County’s commitment through Operation Prime Time to neighborhood-centered not-for-profit youth organizations for summer youth programming; increases in spending on infrastructure repairs and renovations at Erie County Parks; and the creation of three new positions in the Erie County Department of Health to administer vital cancer screening programs for under- and uninsured County residents.
Poloncarz continued, “It is important to continue funding the programs residents demand, those programs that will improve quality of life and protect public health, and to continue providing the services people rely on for support. Despite budgetary pressures we are able to continue doing so with this Proposed Budget.”
The almost $1.392 billion General Fund in the Proposed Budget represents a 1.1 percent ($15.5 million) increase in spending over FY-2013, which, as in most years, is driven primarily by State and Federal mandated expenses the County has no control over. The largest factors behind the increase are: increases in the caseloads and expense of the New York State Constitutional Safety Net Program; an increase in debt service obligations; new positions required by NYS to be added to the Sheriff’s Division of Jail Management; increases in personal services expense as a result of union contracts settled in 2012 and 2013; and spending for Correctional Health services mandated by the federal government.
Other highlights of the 2014 Proposed Budget include: the property tax rate per thousand remaining at $5.03 (since 2009), $4.4 million in additional revenue due to assessment growth of which the libraries will get $415,000, sales tax revenue projected to grow at 2.75%, and a net reduction of 40 positions across County government.
The initial estimates for the 2014 Proposed Budget revealed a $29.2 million gap, which was reduced to $17.9 million through the use of strategic cuts in many departments and assessment growth. The $17.9 million gap will be closed (without necessitating a property tax increase) by: using $5.4 million of fund balance (an amount previously approved by the control board), $3.9 million recovered from the closing of dormant capital accounts, and $8.6 million in savings by taking advantage of the 2010 NYS Employer Contribution Stabilization Program.
The 2010 Pension Stabilization Program has been utilized by more than 200 local municipalities across New York State including 18 counties like Westchester, Monroe and Albany in order amortize annual employer contributions to the pension system.