Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz released his proposed 2019 county budget Friday. It increases spending while providing the largest property tax rate cut in more than a decade. While Poloncarz calls it a "common sense" plan, critics were quick to question the increased spending.
Poloncarz, while providing some highlights of his new $1.69 billion budget proposal, credited higher-than-anticipated sales tax collections for generating more revenue from which the county could increase investments. He also stated that additional construction creates more properties which may be taxed.
"We are generating more property tax through the increased amount of buildings and assessment growth that we've seen in our community," Poloncarz said. "You're seeing a lot of new buildings, stuff that's going up, that adds to our tax levy rolls. We are going to be receiving additional funds."
The budget cuts the county's property tax rate to $4.86 per $1,000. For example, someone who owns a home with a value assessed at $100,000 will pay a $486 county tax bill in 2019. The rate is nine cents lower than 2018.
Poloncarz admitted that some homeowners may be subject to assessments in 2019 which raise their property values but pointed out those assessments are determined at the municipal level.
"The town assessor can do reassessments. If they haven't done a reassessment and your property is the same, your county tax bill will go down," he said.
The Erie County Legislature received a copy of the budget Friday morning. Legislature Chairman Peter Savage said he had only briefly glanced at the budget as he met with reporters but was optimistic about the plan in the early stages of his review.
"I'm pleased that we've not only maintained our commitment to cultural organizations in this community, that we've made strategic investments in our parks, " he said. "He's recommending we significantly decrease the tax rate, which is the portion of the taxing mechanism in New York State that we can control."
The budget proposal also provides an estimated $72 million for infrastructure projects, including about $30 million for road and bridge repairs. When asked if that would be enough funding for roads and bridges, Poloncarz pointed out that the sum does not include federal dollars that would also be put to use on such projects.
Critics question the spending increased. Among those pointing to that was Legislature Minority Leader Joseph Lorigo.
"Take a look at all the jobs that the county executive has added to the budget over the past several years, whether through the budget process or in the middle of the year," Lorigo said. "We don't need to keep adding jobs after jobs after jobs. The answer isn't always spending more. Sometimes you need to do better with what you have."
Erie County Legislators have until December 10 to vote on the budget.
Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw also criticized the spending increases, saying the Poloncarz administration has raised spending consistently over the past six years.
"Spending is up over $170 million since he took office in 2012," Mychajliw said. "The amount collected, when it comes to the levy, is $42 million in property taxes collected. That is not good for the people of Erie County."
Poloncarz, when asked about the spending increases, said it's in relation to contracts with county workers and their raises. Knowing the comptroller had pointed out the spending increase since 2012, he took a verbal jab at the man expected to challenge the county executive in next year's election.
"It's a little disingenuous with the Comptroller saying that. He goes out there and cheers when the contracts are entered into, good for the employees, but then he goes and criticizes the increases in the budget to pay for the employees' contracts. You can't have it both ways."
To which Mychajliw replied: "I have no idea what he's talking about. The data is the data. Spending is up more than $170 million under his watch. And under his watch, with the levy, an additional $42 million have been collected pertaining to property tax revenue."
Mychajliw did acknowledge the increase in sales tax revenues and placed credit for that on President Donald Trump's tax cuts.
(Click here for links to the budget proposal.)