“Quick and painless” is how legislators described the final approval process for the 2016 Erie County Budget. Residents can expect to see a decrease in taxes for the second year in a row and more funding for the fight against the county’s growing epidemic of drug abuse.
Community investment and a tax cut
There were no major changes made to Erie County Executive Marc Poloncarz’s budget proposal, but Erie County Legislature Majority Caucus Leader Joseph Lorigo (R-10th District) said the work leading up the budget’s approval was arduous.
Among the budget amendments Lorigo highlighted was more money for the Cornell Cooperative Extension and added money for Boys and Girls clubs and youth programs throughout the county.
County Legislators worked out close to $1.5 million dollars in cut costs. Lorigo said the result will be a property tax roughly three cents lower for every $1000 of assessed value.
“From the very beginning we said we wanted to provide another tax decrease for the residents of Erie County. We went to work. We found real cuts. We identified areas that we also believe that we should invest in. We did that while still providing a $1.5 million decrease, and I think the residents of Erie County were well-served by our efforts,” said Lorigo.
Taking aim at the drug epidemic
A week before the budget was approved, legislators heard the usual requests for funding from local organizations and cultural institutions during a public hearing. But as Legislator Lynne Dixon (I-9th District) explained, there was also something unexpected.
“What we also had was some very emotional testimony from a couple of parents, and some friends and relatives of those who had died from opioid or heroin addiction,” said Dixon.
The speeches really caught the attention of everyone in the legislative chamber and served to highlight a growing problem, according to Dixon.
“You have these parents who just lost loved ones in September and were already turning their energies to pushing for efforts to do more,” Dixon said.
Western New York United – a community based prevention agency focused on educating the public about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse – will receive $2,500.
The Erie County Sheriff’s Narcotics Unit will receive funding for two additional deputies. Dixon said discussions have already taken place about having the deputies address the community. She said they will be in high demand.
“The hope is that we can put that focus and really that spotlight on an issue that’s becoming an increasing concern,” explained Dixon, “and that these deputies can focus all of their energies on addressing this very important issue.”
Sheriff Timothy Howard said the Narcotics Unit has been working tirelessly to stop a stream of illegal drugs from entering or being sold within the county. The two additional deputies for the Narcotics Unit will come from among the more experienced members of the Sheriff’s office, and two new hires will follow them on to the overall force.
Dixon said in the coming year, the legislature will also be organizing collaborative meetings. They’ll bring together agencies like the sheriffs and the health department with those friends and family members who have spoken out. Their goal will be determining what’s next in the fight against drug use.