Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz formally presented his fiscal year 2013 proposed Erie County budget, calling it "the county's most challenging budget year since the 'Red-Green' fiscal crisis."
Poloncarz said the budget challenge stemmed from a "perfect storm" of new state-mandated expenses and significant declines in revenues.
"However, when I was elected last November, I heard the message loud and clear: the public demands certain quality of life programs and services be funded - regardless of Albany mandates," said Poloncarz. "As such, today, I present a proposed budget that will maintain and, in some cases, enhance these services in a responsible way, while acknowledging the hard fiscal realities facing us."
The County Legislature now has until Dec. 4 to adopt the budget, including any changes they wish to incorporate. Should the county executive veto any items added or increased by the legislature, the legislature will have until Dec. 11 to approve any veto overrides before the budget is considered adopted. Specifically, the 2013 proposed budget:
•Increases the public library system's tax levy to $22.172 million;
•Provides $5.570 million in cultural funding ($148,000 increase over 2012 legislature restorations) through a new, revitalized process based on need and merit;
•Maintains 2012 funding levels for rodent control and the summer youth education and anti-crime program, Operation PrimeTime;
•Maintains public safety services like the sheriff's road patrol; and,
•Increases the pay-as-you-go road fund by $700,000 and the capital budget to $39 million to address roads, bridges and parks. The almost $1.385 billion general fund in the proposed budget represents a 2.1 percent ($30 million) increase in spending over FY-2012 due, almost exclusively, to increases in state-mandated costs, including:
•A $17 million increase in fringe benefit costs, which is driven by an 8 percent increase in health insurance expenses, an 11.3 percent increase in pension payments, and an increase in workers compensation expenses;
•An $8 million increase (to $219.7 million total) in the county's Medicaid share, which exceeds the phased-in growth cap implemented by the state by $4.1 million because of an additional mandated payment this coming year.
Poloncarz added, "counties in New York are required by state law to pay for more than 40 mandated programs, which for Erie County accounts for approximately 90 percent of our annual budget."
Coupled with these increased costs, substantial decreases in revenues are projected, including, for the first time in more than a decade, negative property assessment growth resulting in $5.1 million in lost property tax revenues originally anticipated for 2013. The county will also lose millions of dollars in grant funding and reimbursements for services like probation, foster care, the County's crime lab, Homeland Security, and public health due to state and federal aid cuts.
In order close a more than $30 million budget gap, the proposed budget includes an "all of the above" approach that calls for an across-the-board reduction in departmental spending that includes cutting of 63 positions (10 occupied), the use of $5.4 million in fund balance, and a property tax increase for the first time since 2009.
The proposed budget will increase the property tax rate per thousand from $5.03 to $5.21 - an 18 cent increase.
This 3.4 percent increase will provide Erie County with $8.09 million in new revenue and keep the county $2.29 million below the county's property tax cap.