Erie County is off to a great start in 2013 due to actions taken at the end of the 2012 that are going to have a positive financial impact in the next year and for many years to come. The following is a brief overview of some highlights.
- I have talked at length about the 2013 budget, but wanted to again commend the efforts of the majority of the Legislature that voted against the proposed property tax increase that was included in the county executive’s proposed budget. It was imperative that we not ask taxpayers for any additional money to balance the budget.
- During the final 2012 session, the Legislature approved contract agreements with Teamsters Local 264 and CSEA Local 815 - Corrections Officer Unit. I believe that both agreements are fair and respectful of taxpayer dollars. Notably, the contract negotiations resulted in union workers paying a percentage of their health care costs, both while working and after retirement. This is significant because under the former contract, workers had their health care paid for entirely by the county. This will account for considerable savings.
- In the final weeks of 2012, the County Executive announced that the county would refinance existing bonds for an estimated savings of $2.6 million or $221,772 annually for 12 years. This is significant because the savings had been identified for some time now and Erie County finally was able to capitalize on low interest rates. This issue was discussed extensively in 2012, especially when the Legislature’s Minority Caucus and County Executive disagreed over how to bond. I found it to be critical that Erie County allow the control board to borrow and save $860,000 instead of borrowing through the county. The Minority Caucus also called attention to the potential savings through refinancing. I support the Bond Refunding Plan to benefit taxpayers and am hopeful that this sets a precedent of bonding and refinancing appropriately to best utilize the market for our benefit.
- One of the biggest announcements also came in the final days of the year, all parties involved had agreed to a new Buffalo Bills lease. New York State, Erie County and the Buffalo Bills announced the terms had been agreed to on Dec. 21 at Ralph Wilson Stadium. I was unable to attend the announcement that a lease agreement was proposed and memorandum of understanding signed. This is an important first step. However, at this time, I am still reviewing the proposed agreement which is subject to Legislative approval. That vote is expected this month or next. This is a major decision for our county and I will fully review all factors before the vote is taken. One of the factors that has not been talked about is what would become of the current stadium if a new one is built. Such a change would impact all taxpayers in Erie County. This is just one example of the lack of long-term planning involved in this current lease and accompanying discussions.
On a final note, winter weather arrived in our region with ferocity last week. For those of you who enjoy the snow for recreational purposes, visit the county park’s website at www.erie.gov/parks for information on where you can ski, sled, toboggan, ice skate and snowmobile. And mark your calendars for Sunday, Jan. 27 when Winter Fest returns to Chestnut Ridge Park from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.