Modified: October 16, 2017 9:53am
On Friday, October 13 Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz presented his Fiscal Year 2018 proposed Erie County Budget (“Proposed Budget”) to the Erie County Legislature, noting the pressure placed on the proposal by the New York State Tax Cap while also highlighting the significant investments in infrastructure, quality-of-life services and programs, poverty initiatives, and economic development that the Proposed Budget contains. Poloncarz announced that the Proposed Budget cuts the county Property Tax Rate by one cent, which will drop that rate to $4.94 per thousand dollars of assessed value from the current rate of $4.95. Additionally, to provide additional tax-savings to area residents, the county will assume over half (52%) of the Community College chargeback burden, which will amount to $3.6 million in savings to taxpayers across the county. As a result of these and other measures, the county will stay under the NYS property tax cap rate for 2018, which is 1.84%. This is the third year in a row with a proposed cut in the Property Tax Rate, which was cut from $4.96 in 2016, $4.99 in 2015 and from $5.03 in 2009-2014.
The 2018 Proposed Budget prioritizes funding $69.1 million for capital projects and infrastructure work, of which $36.5 million would be used for road and bridge work. Erie County has conducted over $90 million of such work since 2014. The Proposed Budget also includes:
• More than $478,000 in new operational funding for the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library (funding for the B&ECPL has been increased by $2.3 million over the past five budget years under the Poloncarz administration);
• $250,000 in new operational assistance for SUNY Erie Community College (“ECC”);
• $500,000 in capital funding for the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center;
• continued funding for county lead abatement and opioid epidemic initiatives;
• a modest 1.2% increase in funding for arts and cultural organizations, the sixth consecutive year with a proposed funding increase for these groups;
• continued funding for the redevelopment of the Bethlehem Steel site in Lackawanna;
• continued funding for summertime Operation Prime Time youth development programs;
• $175,000 in funding to assist in the creation of the new Explore & More Children’s Museum at Canalside.
• an appropriation of $500,000 for continuing anti-poverty initiatives in 2018.
“The 2018 Proposed Budget builds on our strengths, addresses areas in our community that need attention, and returns more money to taxpayers’ pockets. As any sensible and reasonable Budget should, this proposal prudently uses resources to address county needs while at the same time reducing the property tax rate and lessening the burden of community college chargebacks on communities countywide,” said Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz. “This Proposed Budget highlights Erie County’s growth and also underscores the challenges that the NYS tax cap and state-mandated costs, which constitute fully 90% of our Budget for 2018, still present. Additionally, it reflects my administration’s continuing commitment to combating poverty in our county, investing in our infrastructure, and providing the services that taxpayers demand and expect. ”
In 2017, Poloncarz appropriated an initial $500,000 for county anti-poverty initiatives and further expanded the fight against poverty through the establishment of the Erie County Poverty Advisory Committee, along with conducting the first Poverty Summit in August. He also signed his eighteenth Executive Order in September, mandating that county construction projects of over $250,000 and involving at least three workers include requirements to employ local and disadvantaged workers, including workers from high-poverty zip codes in the county.
In addition to a $250,000 increase in operational funding for ECC, the Proposed 2018 Budget also allocates $4.8 million in county share funds (supplemented by matching funds form the State university of New York) for ECC capital projects in the 2018 Capital Budget. Poloncarz created the Erie County ECC Coordinating Committee in 2016 to examine and better coordinate college practices and procedures, along with examining the issue of chargebacks. Chargebacks are state-mandated fees imposed on a county when its residents attend another county’s community college, affecting most Towns in the county but disproportionately affecting municipalities near county borders with students attending community colleges in the neighboring county. In 2016, municipalities paid over $6.9 million in chargeback fees, with the top 5 hardest-hit communities being Amherst ($1.18 million), the Town of Tonawanda ($1.01 million), Buffalo ($913,000), Cheektowaga ($819,000), and Grand Island ($520,000). Under the proposed budget, in 2018 the county will assume 52% of the chargeback total, approximately $3.6 million. This would lower the chargeback burden for all municipalities, essentially providing added tax relief for residents. For example, Amherst’s revised chargeback amount would decrease by approximately $614,000, the Town of Tonawanda’s would decrease by $529,000, Buffalo’s would be reduced by $475,000, and so forth.
“Community college chargebacks are unfair, plain and simple. By assuming over half of the chargeback burden, we are shining a light on the inequities contained in the system and softening the impact on county taxpayers,” Poloncarz said. “Counties should not be penalized because a student from our community chooses to go to a college elsewhere. This does not happen when a student chooses a four-year SUNY institution, and it should not happen for two-year institutions.” Poloncarz continued, “The tax cap continues to be a hindrance to our ability to take full advantage of the increased assessment valuation of our real estate market, which is one of the hottest markets in the country right now. If the tax cap was in fact 2%, Erie County would be able to realize another $513,000 in property tax revenue, which could have been employed to combat poverty, repair additional roads, or provide more library assistance. However, to stay under the cap we were compelled to forgo that additional revenue. Once again, I call on state officials to amend the tax cap to do as they often claim it does: limit growth in assessed real estate value to 2% from the prior year’s assessment.”
Among other highlights, the Proposed Budget creates twelve janitorial or custodial positions to augment efforts aimed at improving the cleanliness and health of county buildings; these positions previously existed in county government but were cut by the Collins administration. Increased community development funding is included for Erie County Soil and Water Conservation and the Cooperative Extension along with continued funding for the important healthcare and community work conducted for Buffalo’s refugee population by Jericho Road Community Health Center.
The Proposed Budget also notes an increase in sales tax collections, which are currently 2% above 2017 budget expectations; in 2018, the Proposed Budget estimates sales tax revenue growth of 1.75% over projected 2017 sales tax collections. Concurrently, the county is maintaining a stable and healthy fund balance of $120.1 million, up from $116.1 million on December 31, 2011. Importantly, undesignated and unassigned fund balance has grown from $85.2 million to $103.6 million in that same time.
Poloncarz concluded, “The 2018 Budget and the accompanying Four Year Financial Plan are balanced, based on conservative estimates and realistically address the challenges facing the County. I remain committed to maintaining the services that our residents expect while running a fiscally-stable government that continues to grow and improve, and I welcome discussions with the Legislature as this proposed Budget moves towards adoption.”