Auto bureau revenue proposal draws mixed reviews

May 7, 2015

One day after promoting the financial benefits to Erie County of completing vehicle registration renewals through local auto bureaus, Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs was before the County Legislature's Economic Development Committee on Thursday to support a proposed law that would designate how those revenues would be spent.

Jacobs' proposal would take the revenues collected from local auto bureaus transaction fees and put them directly into the county's road fund. Currently, those revenues go into the county's general fund. Jacobs, as well as supporters of his proposal, believe designating the dollars for road work creates a greater sense of accountability.

Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs speaks during Thursday's meeting of the Erie County Legislature's Economic Development Committee.
Credit Michael Mroziak, WBFO

"There's examples of this. You pay your water bill and your sewer bill, that's a fee that goes specifically to that use," said Jacobs. "That's what this is akin to."

Some lawmakers who attended Thursday morning's Erie County Legislature Economic Development Committee meeting expressed concerns that designating auto bureau revenues, instead of sending those dollars into the general fund, may create gaps elsewhere in the budget.

On Wednesday during an appearance in North Buffalo, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz called the Jacobs plan a "gimmick," one he likened to the budgetary tactics of the county's "red-green" budget crisis several years ago.

"I don't have a problem if you find new revenue to pay for the roads but what it does, it's taking operating revenue that's already in the budget for general operating purposes and saying we're going to dedicate it solely to roads, without replacing the revenue for the costs we already have," Poloncarz said.

But others dispute that logic.

"Isn't it a complete wash if $2 million is flowing into the budget and $2 million has to come out of county revenues to pay for pay for roads currently?" asked Legislator Ted Morton during the hearing. "If we're not doing extra, it's a complete wash. There is no hole."

The proposal is still very much in its due diligence stage, according to Legislator Edward Rath III, who chairs the Economic Development Committee.

"Lots of questions have to be asked and answered and right now we're going through that process," said Rath, who expressed his support for the plan. "I have a number of county legislators that are standing with me on this local law right now, and I'm optimistic in the next month or so we're going to bring this to the floor for a vote."

The previous day, Jacobs pitched renewals of auto registrations at local bureaus. By utilizing local offices as opposed to going online or mailing to Albany, he said, the county gets to keep a portion of the revenues. By using the other options, he added, Albany keeps all the money.