December is traditionally the month to reflect on the year gone by while preparing for the year ahead, and in county government that means approving a responsible budget that recognizes the recent progress made by Erie County while doing our best to forecast what the future might hold. This year’s lengthy and vigorous budget process did just that, and I am pleased to say that the legislature approved the 2019 budget by an 8-3 vote last week.
The adopted 2019 budget is a sensible plan that not only builds on the progress we are making but also includes a significant reduction in the 2019 property tax rate of about 2.2%, or eleven cents per thousand dollars of assessed value. It is the largest tax rate cut in more than a decade and emphasizes both Erie County’s current fiscal strength and my administration’s pragmatic budgeting process. This year, thanks to the bi-partisan work of a group of legislators, we were able to deliver a significant tax cut in such a manner to not hamstring future county budgets or services.
Along with that large tax decrease is a continued commitment to the People’s Mandates, the programs that county residents expect and deserve. Funding for road work will exceed $34 million and our Parks will receive over $3 million in capital improvements. Increases in funding for libraries, cultural organizations, and tourism initiatives are included in the adopted budget; over the last seven years my administration has increased library funding by over $3 million annually, and this budget is also the seventh consecutive budget that increases funding for our cultural organizations.
Important public health and safety initiatives are also a part of the 2019 adopted budget, such as $750,000 in funding to combat lead poisoning, $250,000 to help combat a cluster of 6 types of cancer identified in the West Cheektowaga – East Buffalo area, and providing funding to a Crime Stoppers Initiative, in conjunction with Central Police Services, as reward money for information leading to a conviction in a crime where a firearm was used.
$1 million in funding will be used to continue the redevelopment of the Bethlehem Steel site in Lackawanna as that parcel comes closer to its rebirth as a modern business park, and funding is also now approved to begin the Monumental Women’s project to recognize trailblazing women of Erie County, as well as the African-American Veterans Monument on the waterfront.
The budget process is never easy but the end result should be a budget that best serves the people. The adopted budget is the result of hard work, compromise, and good faith negotiations between my administration and a bi-partisan group of legislators who put politics aside to do the work of the people. This practical and responsible budget builds on our strengths without creating future shortfalls and I thank all who worked to make it happen.