November Column: County’s 2019 Budget will Cut Property Taxes Again

It is that time of year again. In fact, for the Erie County Legislature it is the most important time of the year. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz delivered his 2019 Executive Budget to us last month and we now have until early December to make any changes to it that we deem necessary. If we fail to pass a budget by the deadline, the county executive’s becomes the default budget. If we should make changes, the county charter gives him the power to veto any additions. The legislature can then override these line item vetoes by a two-thirds majority. Before any of this happens, however, there will be hours of budget hearings, including a public one on November 19th.

As I tell my political science students at Canisius College, the budget is a policy document. By allocating money to various purposes we are setting our priorities. It is one thing to say that something is important. It is another thing entirely to devote taxpayer dollars to it. So when we budget, we are literally putting our money where our mouths are.

The county executive’s proposed budget cuts the county property tax rate by 9 cents per $1,000 of equalized assessed value. Cutting taxes is a priority upon which I am sure the legislature and executive will agree. Estimated sales tax revenue in the executive budget is significantly higher than last year. This is a result of the strong local economy. This helps to provide the resources required to give our citizens the government they deserve. The executive’s proposed expenditures in the $1.5 billion general fund budget provide funding for the services expected by county residents such as roads, sheriff protection and county parks. The executive has slated the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library system for an almost a half million dollar increase. I was pleased to see this, as the libraries in Grand Island and the Tonawandas are important to the fabric of our community and heavily utilized by people of all ages. All in all, the executive’s budget represents a good start. I am hopeful, though, that we in the county legislature can put our own stamp on it and make it an even better budget.

In so doing, I will pursue several of my priorities. In addition to realizing a cut in property taxes, I want to make sure there is adequate funding for our roads. The county highway system is still recovering from the devastating impacts of the infamous Red and Green Budget of more than a decade ago. To be sure, we certainly have made progress in recent years. But there are plenty of county roads that still need attention. I also want to insure that SUNY-Erie (formally known as Erie Community College) has the funding necessary to provide a solid education to those who seek to better themselves. These are just a few of my priorities. If you would like to make yours known to county lawmakers, consider speaking at the public hearing on Monday, November 19 at 6 pm in the legislative chambers on the 4th floor of Old County Hall, 92 Franklin Street in Buffalo.

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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