Modified: October 14, 2016 10:16am
Today, Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz presented his Fiscal Year 2017 proposed Erie County Budget (“Proposed Budget”), 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. In addition, Poloncarz announced that the Proposed Budget contains a two-cent cut in the county Property Tax Rate, which will drop that rate to $4.94 per thousand dollars of assessed value from the current rate of $4.96 and will keep Erie County under the NYS-imposed Tax Cap for 2017. This is the second year in a row with a proposed cut in that rate, which was cut from $4.99 in 2015 and from $5.03 in 2009-2014.
The 2017 Proposed Budget prioritizes funding $55.6 million for vital infrastructure improvements, of which $23.9 million would be used for road and bridge work. Erie County has conducted over $60 million in such work since 2014. The proposal also includes over $469,000 in new funding for the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library; funding for the B&ECPL has been increased by $1.8 million over the past four budget years. Other highlights of the Proposed Budget include an increase in capital funding of $1 million for the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center; an increase of $225,000 in funding for arts and cultural organizations, the fifth consecutive funding increase for these groups since 2012; continued funding for the redevelopment of the Bethlehem Steel site in Lackawanna; an increase in funding of $80,000 for summertime Operation Prime Time youth development programs; and continued funding for new vans for the “Going Places” senior transportation program. By the end of 2017 the Poloncarz administration will have replaced all 15 of the senior vans used countywide. In addition, the Proposed Budget includes an initial appropriation of $500,000 for anti-poverty initiatives in 2017.
“A sensible and reasonable budget addresses the needs of the community, balances available funds in a wise manner while remaining cognizant of future responsibilities, and builds on past successes. We are doing that today as we present a proposal that cuts real property taxes and still remains below the NYS tax cap,” said Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz. “This is the fifth Budget that I have presented as Erie County Executive, and it underscores Erie County’s growth as well as the challenges that the NYS tax cap and state-mandated costs, which constitute fully 90% of our Budget for 2017, still present. Moreover, 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. ”
The 2017 Proposed Budget for the General Fund is $1,454,648,305 and includes $341.6 million of sales tax, which is collected by Erie County and distributed to local governments, school districts and the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority. This amounts to a total increase of less than one percent (0.69%) over the adjusted 2016 Budget. In total, for all County operating funds, the 2017 Budget is only 0.15% higher than the adjusted 2016 Budget.
State- and federally-mandated costs, which fund nearly 40 programs countywide, consume 90% of Erie County’s total budget. An increase in court-ordered mental health evaluations and services, increases in indigent legal defense costs, increases in spending for child welfare and foster care, and other increases in related mandated costs are driving an overall rise in the cost of provision for these services. Health insurance costs are also rising, primarily due to growing pharmaceutical expenses, while the county is also shouldering an increased share of grants in the Health, Central Police Services, and Emergency Services Departments due to lower state or federal contributions to these programs. In addition, the county is also facing increased debt service payments from greater spending on road and highway improvements and projects.
Poloncarz said, “Protecting public health and safety is the primary responsibility of government and one that my administration takes very seriously. We must continue investing in programs and services that aid residents, families and especially children and seniors in living healthier, more productive lives. Despite the funding challenges we face from rising state- and federally-mandated costs, this Proposed Budget is cognizant of both the necessity and value of funding these programs and does so in a responsible manner.”
Erie County will also remain below the NYS-imposed Tax Cap, which is 0.68%. In his budget message to the Erie County Legislature, Poloncarz noted that the tax cap hinders local governments’ ability to take advantage of the increasing assessed valuations in our local real estate market. While other areas of New York State saw dramatic increases in their real estate market during the past three decades, our county did not. In fact, while the valuation of our local real estate market grew during the past thirty years, the increase was at a much lower rate than competing markets. That has changed during the past three years as the Buffalo-Niagara real estate market has become one of the “hot” markets in the United States. Unfortunately, local governments have not been able to take advantage of the increasing valuation of our local real estate market from new commercial buildings adding valuation to our assessment rolls due to the tax cap. In fact, to remain below the property tax cap for 2017, the County was forced to forego $825,000 in additional assessment growth revenue – funds that could have been used for other important County services and improvements.
“It is time for New York State officials to amend the tax cap to do as state officials often claim it does: limit growth in assessed real estate value to two per cent from the prior year’s assessment. New York State government places a self-imposed revenue growth of two percent on their own revenue streams, yet state leaders mandate local governments to be held to a more restrictive standard, which in Erie County for 2017 is 0.68% growth compared to our 2016 tax levy,” Poloncarz said. “State leaders do not statutorily limit their revenue growth to the Consumer Price Index and they should not mandate it on local governments. It is time to for state leaders to amend the tax cap to limit it to a genuine two percent growth.”
Among other areas addressed in the 2017 Proposed Budget is sales tax, which despite lowered expectations in 2016 did not meet projections in Erie County. The reduced price of energy and motor fuels, along with the lower value of the Canadian dollar, are the two primary factors affecting sales tax revenue. With these in mind, the 2017 Proposed Budget estimates only a 1.25% growth in sales tax revenue in 2017, a conservative estimate similar to estimates made by other counties for the coming year. Also, there are 55 net job reductions in the Proposed Budget across all funds. The Proposed Budget also allocates $5.325 million in county share funds (supplemented by matching funds from the State University of New York) for capital projects at Erie Community College, an increase of more than $1 million from the $4.1 million in the adopted 2016 Capital Budget.
Poloncarz concluded, “The 2017 Budget and the accompanying Four Year Financial Plan are balanced, reasonable and conscientious and both documents realistically address the challenges facing the County while acknowledging the revenue constraints affecting the budget amidst calls for enhanced services and programs. 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.”