November 2017 Column – The 2018 County Budget

On Tuesday, November 7th, our annual experiment with democracy continued, as voters cast ballots for a number of offices including Erie County Sheriff, Comptroller and Clerk. In addition, all eleven seats in the County Legislature were up. At this writing I do not know the results of these contests. But I want to congratulate the victors and extend my gratitude to the candidates who fell short. Now it is back to the business of making county government work.

Perhaps the most critical function of the Erie County Legislature is our consideration and passage of an annual budget. Each new budget presents both new challenges and opportunities. The 2018 budget is no different.

The Erie County Charter requires the County Executive to deliver his executive budget to the Legislature by October 15. County Executive Mark Poloncarz is nothing if not punctual and we received his budget on time. The executive budget represents his take on what the final document should resemble. His 2018 budget continues funding for existing county programs and services and also contains a relatively small number of additions. It would provide slight increases to our libraries and cultural organizations. These agencies range from the Albright Knox Art Gallery to the Zoological Society that runs the Buffalo Zoo. They also include one of my favorite organizations, the American Legion Band of the Tonawandas, of which we can all take pride.

The County Executive’s budget also contains a $250,000 increase for Erie Community College. I have had several meetings with the college’s new president and I am confident he will spend this money wisely.

Because of savings in a number of areas, such as the cost of employee pensions, the Executive Budget actually contains a property tax decrease of a penny from $4.95 to $4.94 of equalized assessed valuation. It may not be a big decrease, but it is certainly better than an increase.

It should also be noted that the executive budget also covers half of the community college chargeback costs from other counties’ colleges. In the past, these have been routinely added to the property taxes of the municipalities from which students came. This change is great news for those of us in Grand Island and the Tonawandas because an inordinate number of our students go to Niagara County Community College. This, in turn, has been costing us dearly on our property tax bills.

The budget is now in the possession of the Legislature. We will soon have hearings with department heads to quiz them about their expenditures. We will then have a public hearing on November 21 at 6 p.m. at Old County Hall in the Legislative Chambers. We will then have until early December to amend and adopt the budget. If we fail to act, the Executive Budget will become the default budget. I am confident that we will be able to adopt the budget on time. My guess is that we will make some changes, but the bottom line will remain about the same. Under no circumstances do I see the county property tax rate going up. This will be good news just in time for the holidays.

If you have thoughts you would like to share, I would love to hear from you. I can be contacted by phone at 858-8672 or via email at kevin.hardwick@erie.gov.

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