Erie County Executive’s own Budget Director blasted plan to kick the can on pension payments
(Buffalo) – The Office of Erie County Comptroller completed its review of the proposed 2014 budget and submitted the report to the Erie County Legislature. The analysis reviewed the interest payments Erie County would be responsible for if it were to balance the budget using the “one-shot” revenue of kicking the can on $8.6 million in pension payments.
Over time taxpayers would have to pay an additional $2,439,478 in interest payments if the proposed 2014 budget is approved using this “one-shot” revenue to balance the budget.
The analysis also includes critical comments of kicking the can in this manner by Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz’s own Budget Director, who said it was “not a good decision.” Director of Budget and Management Robert W. Keating criticized the pension amortization plan during a meeting before the Control Board in October of 2012:
“One thing I’m really proud about our budget this year (2012) is we really did not rely on one-shots. There are for example, when you pay the retirement bill there is an option to amortize the bill. There is a one-time savings but it’s a long-term cost with high interest rates. It’s not a good decision…The alternatives were bad decisions like the retirement amortization is a bad decision. Short term it’s great – you get more money now but you’re paying a lot more for it in the future. There is no benefit.”
Source: Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz’s Director of Budget and Management Robert W. Keating, Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority Finance Committee Meeting, 10/19/12
“The County Executive’s own Budget Director said ‘kicking the can’ on pension payments is ‘not a good decision.’ He is absolutely right. Why is Mr. Poloncarz promoting a risky scheme that his own Budget Director called ‘a bad decision’?”
“I would encourage the County Executive to listen to his Budget Director. Mr. Keating warned that this one-shot would lead to ‘higher interest rates’ and that ‘there is no benefit.’ Balancing the budget using smoke and mirrors is what got the county in serious financial trouble not too long ago,” said Erie County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw.
Another concern is Mr. Poloncarz’s own admission that he refuses to be in compliance with the New York State Commission on Corrections recommendations for safe and adequate staffing of deputies at the county jails. When serving as Erie County Comptroller the current County Executive was highly critical of low and unsafe staffing levels:
“Failure to respond to the additional workload these posts would represent will drive overtime costs even higher than the present level…too few deputies/correction officers compel those remaining to work a punishing schedule that increases employee fatigue and drives ever-increasing overtime costs.”
Source: Mark C. Poloncarz, www.erie.gov, “A Review of Overtime at the Erie County Holding Center and the Erie County Correctional Facility, September 2011
“When we’re burning out employees in one of the most dangerous jobs you can have in all of Erie County, that’s not a good thing.”
Source: Mark C. Poloncarz, The Buffalo News, “Comptroller’s Report Targets Rampant Overtime at County Jails,” 9/22/11
The proposed 2014 budget message confirms the County Executive’s reversal of position on this issue, by refusing to be in compliance with jail deputy staffing levels recommended by the New York State Commission on Corrections (C.O.C.), even though the county agreed to fully fund the positions:
“The C.O.C. anticipated the County to add twenty seven (27) new sworn positions in the 2014 recommended Budget and the Sheriff has, in fact, requested those positions as well as two (2) new records clerks. However, due to the County's fiscal challenges, the 2014 recommended Budget is funding only fifteen (15) of those 29 requested positions.”
Source: 2014 County Executive’s Budget Message and Summary, p. ix 10/15/13
“To borrow a familiar phrase from the County Executive’s spokesman, any further criticism of jail management staffing levels would be ‘like shooting someone in the foot and criticizing them for limping.’ Mr. Poloncarz previously blasted inadequate staffing levels of jail deputies. Now he refuses to be in compliance with the Commission on Corrections recommendations to keep deputies and inmates safe. There is a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ component in the proposed 2014 budget,” said Comptroller Mychajliw.
Erie County Clerk Christopher L. Jacobs also provided specific data stating the County Executive’s revenue projection within the proposed 2014 budget for the Erie County Auto Bureau was out of balance and off by $500,000. Historical trends provided by Mr. Jacobs, and confirmed by the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, show Mr. Poloncarz’s revenue projections for a specific “Auto Fees Line” are nowhere near the administration’s inflated figure:
“The State DMV confirmed the drop-off (in Auto Bureau revenue), which will happen because far fewer people’s licenses expire next year compared to other years. It’s just that simple.”
Source: WGRZ.com, “Erie County Proposed 2014 Budget Released,” 10/15/13
“I am deeply concerned with the Revenue Projections for the Erie County Auto Bureau, specifically the Auto Fees line...We felt our estimates were accurate and backed up by statistical data…I can tell you that the Auto Bureau will not be able to meet the dramatic increase in revenue projections submitted by the Budget Office.”
Source: Erie County Clerk Christopher L. Jacobs, “2014 Tentative Budget Revenue Projections,” 10/8/13
The 2014 budget includes the use of numerous “one-shot gimmicks” Mr. Poloncarz previously criticized and blamed for the “Red-Green” Budget Crisis years of 2005-2006. There is a total of $7.4 million in unassigned fund balance used in the proposed 2014 budget, including $2 million for the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens. The combined total of kicking the can on pension payments and use of unassigned fund balance is $16 million.
“I am very concerned because, like the previous administration, the county executive’s 2011 budget uses $16.7 million of reserves – a one shot revenue stream – to balance the budget and the County’s 2011 budget is still tied up in legal proceedings after the county executive decided to declare it ‘null and void.’ Use of the County’s fund balance for recurring expenses was one of the key factors that led to the ‘Red-Green’ fiscal crisis. If the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority doesn’t approve this budget or the administration’s Four Year Plan then there is a very real possibility they will go back to a control status.”
Source: Mark C. Poloncarz, “Poloncarz Warns Erie County’s Financial Future Not as Strong as County Executive Says,” 3/25/11
“The County Executive is just sticking his finger in the dam. Long-term usage of gimmicks to balance budgets and increased spending will cause the dam the break. We don’t want to go down that dark road again. Once was bad enough,” added Comptroller Mychajliw.