Last week I took the oath of office for my third term in the Erie County Legislature representing Grand Island and the Tonawandas. Although much has changed since I first was sworn in four years ago, some of the issues we will be addressing this year have carried over from previous years.
The Buffalo and Erie County Library system’s quest to create a separate independent library district, for instance, is among the topics with which we continue to wrestle. 2014 would appear to be a critical year for this proposal. Currently, the system relies on an annual appropriation in the Erie County Budget for the lion’s share of its funding. At last report, however, the central library board was drafting state legislation to allow for an independent countywide library district, complete with its own taxing authority. If they get it passed in Albany, the question of whether to create the district would be put to the county’s voters. Although I remain skeptical regarding the wisdom of creating another layer of government, I favor allowing the central library board to make their case to the citizens of Erie County and letting the voters decide.
Another issue that may be coming to a head concerns the construction of a new building at ECC’s North Campus. The location of the new academic building has been a bone of contention for several years. The college’s administration and Board of Trustees favor the North Campus. So does a consultant’s report. Others, though, would like to see it located in the City of Buffalo. They argue it should be next to the medical corridor.
The problem with this argument is that it would do little to help taxpayers in the North towns who are burdened by additional property taxes to cover the costs of so-called chargebacks from Niagara County Community College (NCCC). Every time an Erie County resident takes a course at NCCC, Niagara County sends Erie County a bill to cover the cost of the student’s county share for the course. These chargebacks are then added to the property taxes for the city or town in which the student resides. This amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars of additional taxes every year for each municipality. Locating the new building on the North Campus will hopefully persuade more students to attend ECC rather than NCCC. Locating the building downtown would do little to alleviate our chargeback dilemma, as many students from the North towns are reluctant to attend school in Buffalo for a variety of reasons. Hence, it is in our economic self-interest to see that the building is constructed on the North campus.
As the new chair of the Legislature’s Community Enrichment Committee, I will be devoting a great deal of time to topics involving the libraries and the community college. If you have thoughts you would like to share, I would love to hear from you. I can be contacted by phone at 858-8672 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.