Recently the Erie County Legislature’s 11 members have come together to work on several key initiatives and I am extremely proud of the work we have accomplished. The Legislature unanimously approved a plan to create the Opioid Response Hotline, committed funding for hazardous lead abatement, and passed a budget balancing amendment package that invests in Erie County while sending millions back to fund balance that the County Executive wanted to spend on various items.
We should not be dipping into our savings account for recurring costs. That is not responsible budgeting, and we certainly shouldn’t do that with your tax dollars. The Buffalo News ran an editorial in mid-April titled, “Changing the factors driving up taxes must be Job One for state and local leaders.” Read that again: “Job One.” The County Executive’s 10 initiatives for 2016 failed to include any plan to reduce taxes, which should be our main focus. Instead, his proposals spent more of your money and attempt to control local business decisions.
The editorial states, “Officeholders crafting public budgets need to work within a set of boundaries that allows their entities to function, but without the too-easy reliance on raising taxes.” Unfortunately many elected officials are too quick to pass off an expenditure as “small” when some of which total thousands or millions of dollars. We became one of the highest taxed parts of the country, in part, because of that mentality.
Many of the County Executive’s proposals simply add jobs. I do not believe that we can solve every problem by spending more money and creating more government jobs. Real management means working with the resources you have, not continually attempting to create more on the backs of hardworking Erie County tax payers. One such way to better manage would be for the County Executive to reduce the number of fully funded, but vacant jobs, which stands at nearly 250, with 60-70 unfilled for a year or more. Because of this, millions of dollars are collected from taxpayers and never spent on its intended purpose.
Another “priority” of the County Executive was his proposal to ban plastic bags. Prior to enacting a ban, he wanted to spend $75,000 on a study to determine whether we should ban plastic bags. Essentially, this would be $75,000 to ultimately tell residents and businesses that Erie County is making this decision for them. I opposed spending this money, and will oppose any law that pursues the ban.
One area the Legislature recently prioritized was Erie Community College. Drastic decreases in enrollment have significantly stressed the college’s budget, and the costs have been passed on to students in the form of annual tuition increase. Last year, I was the only member of the Legislature to vote against the 2016 ECC budget because it hiked the tuition rate by $300/year. At the time, I said the county and NYS needed to step up and provide assistance. At the May 12 session of the Legislature that is exactly what we did. In an 11-0 vote, we approved a one-time $1 million payment to ECC for them to implement an early retirement incentive program. This will result in immediate and long-term cost savings, which is hopefully a first step in truly turning ECC around.