Tonawanda News

December 1, 2012

County calls GOP plan 'irresponsible'

Staff Reports
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz slammed the legislature’s minority caucus for suggested cuts to his 2013 budget proposal. 

In a letter sent to the caucus on Wednesday, Poloncarz warned that $8,514,324 in cuts proposed by a Republican coalition was irresponsible and would create funding shortages in future budgets that could force oversight by the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority to impose a control period. 

Poloncarz has proposed a 3.4 percent property tax increase that he said would restore funding to county libraries and cultural organizations, though the cuts suggested by the five-person Republican caucus wouldn’t affect those entities. 

“No one wants to propose or vote for a property tax increase,” he said. “However, given the increases in mandated costs and reductions in other revenues we are seeing for next year, this was the option of last resort and the only responsible thing to do in order to preserve the quality-of-life programs and services residents have demanded.”

The control board also approved the county executive’s proposed $1.3 billion 2013 budget and four-year financial plan on Oct. 26, though the minority caucus would like to scale the tax increase down to zero. They’ve proposed shaving overtime costs for the county jail as well as legal settlements, among others.

But the Republican caucus and at least one Democratic legislator say they are not in favor of the planned property tax increase. Republican Legislator Kevin Hardwick said that in fact their proposal, which would entail a zero increase to the tax scenario, follows many of the precepts Poloncarz lauded as feasible when he was still the Erie County Comptroller in 2011. 

“I think with a $1.3 billion budget there is some room for excess,” Hardwick said. “We are $8 million from his budget to holding the line on taxes and the places we’ve looked quite frankly are places that he recommended last year.” 

Hardwick said the caucus has suggested cutting $2.5 million from Poloncarz’s proposal for a retention fund used to to pay for judgements against the county. 

“Right now there’s a balance of $2.5 million or so,” Hardwick said. “There’s plenty of money in there and according to (Poloncarz’s) analysis the average last year was about $2.5 million.” 

Hardwick said the caucus also proposed shaving millions more out of the Erie County Holding Center’s overtime budget under the county executive’s plan. 

“The reason we do that is because we just hired a number of new corrections officers,” he said. 

But Poloncarz has countered that stance, claiming there hasn’t been enough evidence presented, while Democrats hold a slim majority over the Republicans in the 11-person legislature, though some in Poloncarz’s own party have opposed any tax increase, namely Democratic Legislator Thomas Loughran. 

“The minority caucus’ unwillingness to provide any evidence or data to support their proposed cuts during committee speaks volumes,” Poloncarz said. “As county executive, I vowed never to return to the type of budget gimmicks and risky schemes that lead us into the ‘Red-Green’ fiscal crisis, and I will do everything possible to prevent the minority caucus from taking us back down that path.” 

The legislature now has until Tuesday to adopt the budget, including any changes they wish to incorporate. Should Poloncarz veto any items added or increased by the legislature, the group as a whole will have until Dec. 11 to approve any veto overrides before the budget is considered adopted.