It is as simple as it is sobering. A minus B equals C. A is the cost of running county government. B is all non-property tax revenue and C is the amount of money needed to be raised by property taxes. Unfortunately, B has not grown as fast as A. This will require some tough choices. Allow me to elaborate.
The cost of county government (A) continues to grow. A big part of our cost increase is due to increases in employee fringe benefits. There was a time, not too long ago, when it was a standard practice to budget 20-25 percent of salary for fringe benefits. Today, the county’s average retirement cost per employee, alone, is around 20 percent of salary. Add to this, $17,100 for a family health care policy, plus the employer’s share of social security and Medicare, and you are into some big numbers. To their credit, recent county executives have tried with limited success to get employees to share in the cost of their health insurance. Erie County is blessed with many hard-working, dedicated employees. But they are costing us more each year, as health care and pension costs continue to rise.
At the same time, non-property tax revenues (B) are not keeping pace with our expenses. Federal and state grants are drying up and the still sluggish economy is affecting our sales tax growth. At a recent Finance and Management Committee meeting I asked the county’s deputy budget director about our sales tax revenue. He conceded that we may be short as much as $2 million in revenue by the end of the year. Although this could change if the economy picks up, it is something that should concern us all.
If we do nothing, therefore, the rising costs of county government (A) and the lagging non-property tax revenues (B) would yield a rise in property taxes (C) down the road. Before we even consider raising property taxes, though, there are a number of things we should do. One is to maximize every possible source of non-property tax revenue. In a previous column I wrote about the importance heeding County Clerk Chris Jacobs’ call to “renew locally,” keeping a portion of the license and registration fees remain in Erie County. (CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT RENEW LOCALLY) We also need to make responsible cuts to the cost of government. This is where the hard choices come in. I stand ready to work with my colleagues in the legislature and the executive to make these tough choices. I would also value you input.
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.