Real property tax rate remains unchanged as county's fiscal health continues to improve; total spending shows minuscule increase over 2015
Proposal includes increases for roads, infrastructure; critical investments in libraries, economic development initiatives; notes rise in mandated costs
Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz presented his fiscal year 2016 proposed Erie County budget Thursday, which, he said, maintains and strengthens Erie County's quality-of-life services and programs, funds the repair of roads and infrastructure, and provides support for multiple economic development initiatives while holding the line on taxes. In addition, the proposed budget does not change the real property tax rate, which remains at $4.99 per thousand of assessed value. The real property tax rate is the lowest it has been since 2008 and remains one of the lowest county property tax rates in New York.
"A sound and reasonable budget addresses the needs of the community, balances available funds in a prudent and responsible manner, and builds on past successes toward a brighter future. We are doing that today as we present a proposal that does not raise real property taxes and keeps total spending nearly flat, with an increase of only 0.73 percent from last year's adopted budget," Poloncarz said. "This is the fourth budget that I have presented as Erie County executive, and it reflects the growth in our county as well as the challenge that state-mandated costs still present, which constitute 89 percent of our budget for 2016. Moreover, it reflects my administration's enduring commitment to strengthening public health and safety, investing in our infrastructure, and providing the services that taxpayers demand and expect. "
Erie County's revived economic and fiscal health provide the platform for the 2016 proposed budget, with recent credit upgrades and a state comptroller report noting the county's fiscal stress level has declined for the second year in a row underscoring the balanced proposal. Erie County's credit rating has now re-attained levels it has not seen since before the "Red/Green Fiscal Crisis" of a decade ago, bolstered by a robust county fund balance that continues to grow at modest rates.
"Wall Street has noticed that my administration has righted the fiscal ship in Erie County, and these upgrades to our credit rating are good news for all residents," Poloncarz said. "Prudent fiscal stewardship of county resources has been a hallmark of my tenure both as comptroller and now as county executive, and I am proud that our hard work to restore Erie County's good rating and good name has been noticed."
Among the areas designated for prioritized funding in the proposed budget are road and bridge projects, emphasizing the administration's commitment to improving Erie County's infrastructure. The proposed budget would invest $53 million in capital projects in 2016.
Elsewhere, the proposed budget allocates a funding increase of more than $460,000 for the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library. Funding for the B&ECPL, which had been uncertain under prior administrations, has increased by nearly $1.7 million since 2012. For the fourth year in a row, cultural organizations will see increased funding for new applicants and agencies through a rigorous, competitive process that replaces the process in existence prior to the Poloncarz administration.
Other areas identified for increased funding include critical tourism promotion through Visit Buffalo Niagara; added community development funding for Cornell Cooperative Extension and Erie County Soil and Water Conservation; and funding for the Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Improvement Corp. to continue its work of acquiring, rehabilitating and returning abandoned or foreclosed properties to productive use.
Poloncarz said, "This proposed budget invests once again in the peoples' mandates, wisely using county resources to aid in providing the services that residents expect. Each year, we are working hard to build a stronger Erie County and investments such as these add to our community health, our economic development, and our quality of life."
Other highlights of the proposed budget for 2016 include an operational funding increase of more than $245,000 for Erie Community College, the second year in a row the college has received such an increase (that takes Erie County's operational support to ECC to $16 million); creating new positions in the county workforce for important initiatives such as two new sheriff's deputies to work on the heroin and drug epidemic sweeping this area, three new positions in the E-911 call center to provide additional support to this system, and three new attorney positions in order to meet state-mandated requirements for Family Court; and funding to purchase new vans for senior citizen transportation through the "Going places" van program.
The proposed budget for 2016 now goes to the Erie County Legislature for its review and vote by Dec. 8.