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2/08/13: Bee News - County's Working Hard to Maximize Taxpayer Dollars


MARK POLONCARZ
February 8, 2013

In a time of fiscal challenges, when government needs to tighten its belt just like residents across Erie County have had to do, we’re striving to maximize every dollar we have - not spending more but spending more wisely.

Last week, the Legislature approved my plan to take advantage of historically low interest rates and refund four series of bonds, which will save taxpayers more than $2.6 million in interest costs over the next 12 years.   Despite the criticism I received from members of the minority caucus of the Legislature last year for not conducting the refunding then, in waiting until this year, the Control Board and I have been able to maximize the potential savings - $1.1 million more than if we would have followed their advice. 

While refunding bonds is no silver bullet solution in challenging financial times because you can only do it once, every little bit helps.  The over $330,000 in savings we will realize this year, while modest, will help as we work to rebalance the 2013 Budget by plugging the $8.5 million hole caused by the Legislature’s approved amendments.

As is the case in communities across New York State and the country, health care costs are rising at an unsustainable rate and putting an additional squeeze on budgets.   That’s why one of my administration’s top priorities has been to come to the table to renegotiate fair contracts for the eight (of nine) County employee unions that are currently lapsed. 

Recently, we successfully ratified new contracts with the two unions representing our County’s jail facilities.  Among the cost-saving elements in these contracts is the requirement for employees to pay a percentage of their health care costs both while working and after retirement, when previously they enjoyed 100% County-funded health insurance.  

We are working hard to settle union contracts while treating employees with the respect they deserve, and this approach has resulted in significant taxpayer savings. Specifically, Erie County is poised to save nearly $190 million in long term insurance liability cost savings according to the Government Accounting Standards Board. 

Lastly, as a direct result of a loss of emergency communications during Superstorm Sandy, we are in the process of upgrading our videoconferencing and multimedia capabilities in the Rath Building.  With a small investment today, not only will we be prepared for future emergency or disaster situations but we will also provide all County officials—present and future—a significant opportunity to reduce the loss of productivity and expense associated with official travel required for routine communication with our counterparts at the State and Federal levels. 

Such capabilities would have been invaluable to me as Comptroller when discussing possible bond rating upgrades with the Wall Street rating agencies and bond counsel, making travel to New York City unnecessary.  Now these capabilities will be available to help all County personnel maximize their communications, efficiency, and effectiveness, while saving thousands in taxpayer dollars.