County Leg­is­la­ture OKs bud­get that cuts tax rate, adds county jobs

The Buffalo News - - LOCAL NEWS - By San­dra Tan NEWS STAFF RE­PORTER

The Erie County Leg­is­la­ture on Thurs­day unan­i­mously ap­proved a 2018 bud­get that cuts the tax rate slightly.

The county tax rate will fall by 1 cent. But the ac­tual tax levy – the total amount of prop­erty taxes col­lected by the county – will grow by 5.35 per­cent, the high­est per­cent­age in­crease in at least a decade.

The $1.48 bil­lion bud­get put for­ward by County Ex­ec­u­tive Mark C. Polon­carz pre­serves county ser­vices and con­tin­ues in­vest­ment in anti-poverty ef­forts and the Beth­le­hem Steel site re­de­vel­op­ment. It will in­crease spend­ing for li­braries, pro­vide more sup­port to at­tract movie pro­duc­tions and ear­mark $69.1 mil­lion for con­struc­tion and road projects, which is more than last year.

Polon­carz at­trib­uted the growth in prop­erty taxes to in­creased as­sess­ments and new con­struc­tion. The 2018 tax levy will be $287 mil­lion. The tax rate will fall to $4.94 per $1,000 of as­sessed value.

Polon­carz said the bud­get also re­flects fis­cal pru­dence, with the over­all bud­get grow­ing by 2.1 per­cent and stay­ing un­der tax cap lim­its.

Chair­man John Mills, R-Or­chard Park, said the fi­nal bud­get was the re­sult of mul­ti­ple meet­ings with the county ex­ec­u­tive since late Oc­to­ber to reach a com­pro­mise on cuts and spend­ing. The Repub­li­can-sup­ported ma­jor­ity at­tempted the fur­ther re­duce the tax levy and elim­i­nate jobs, but was ul­ti­mately per­suaded by Polon­carz that such cuts would be detri­men­tal to county ser­vices, he said.

“I think this is prob­a­bly one of the smoothest bud­get pas­sages in my past 10 years in the Leg­is­la­ture,” said Leg­is­la­tor Betty Jean Grant, D-Buffalo.

She said the Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity did not stir up con­tro­versy over Polon­carz’s rec­om­men­da­tions this year and sus­pected that their new­found will­ing­ness to work with the county ex­ec­u­tive had to do with the fact that the Democrats will take over the ma­jor­ity in Jan­uary.

Last week, the Leg­is­la­ture ap­proved a pack­age of bud­get amend­ments that, most no­tably, pro­vides an ad­di­tional $250,000 for Erie Com­mu­nity Col­lege, in ad­di­tion to the $250,000 boost al­ready pro­posed by Polon­carz.

The amend­ments add more staff to the Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s Of­fice, Comptroller’s Of­fice and County Clerk’s Of­fice. Polon­carz’s of­fice re­ceives an ad­di­tional ad­min­is­tra­tive as­sis­tant. The Leg­is­la­ture also sup­ported ad­di­tional or re­stored fund­ing to a laun­dry list of leg­is­la­tor­sup­ported com­mu­nity and cul­tural groups.

Al­to­gether, 35 new full-time po­si­tions will be added to the county pay­roll next year. That in­cludes the hir­ing of more full­time, pro­fes­sional jan­i­tors to keep county of­fices clean, said Bud­get Di­rec­tor Robert Keat­ing. That fig­ure is slightly off­set by a re­duc­tion of 14 sea­sonal and part-time work­ers. Some county ad­min­is­tra­tors will also re­ceive raises.

To help off­set the ad­di­tional costs, the Leg­is­la­ture cut the ad­di­tion of five full-time mo­tor ve­hi­cle operators/snow­plow driv­ers to the Depart­ment of Pub­lic Works. The Leg­is­la­ture also took $500,000 from the county’s le­gal risk re­ten­tion fund, the pot of money used to set­tle law­suits. That ac­count will have to be re­plen­ished with 2017 sur­plus money next year.

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