Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard is before the County Legislature Wednesday morning, along with District Attorney John Flynn, Clerk Mickey Kearns and the Board of Elections, on this second day of hearings on County Executive Mark Poloncarz' proposed budget for next year.
Department heads get to come in and explain their proposed budgets. Next week, the public gets to sound off, a public hearing usually dominated by the amount of money going to arts and cultural organizations.
"It's going to take going through the full budget process, fixing that," said Legislature Majority Leader April Baskin, deep into her first county budget. "We have to pay very close attention. I'm listening very closely to all of the commissioners that are coming in and speaking as to their budgets and their various departmental needs, but it's going to require going through the full process and having the public hearing, where the public will have a chance to comment as well."
Both Baskin and Budget Committee Chair Barbara Miller-Williams have districts in Buffalo, so their district issues are very different from suburban legislators, who are usually counting carefully when the budgets for parks, roads and bridges come up. Both Miller-Williams and Baskin have significant county operations in their districts, heavy on arts and culture and health and human services.
Budget debates some years finish within a few hours and some have gone well into the next day. It depends on the politics, the issues, the state of county finances and sometimes the personalities involved.
A former Ellicott District Common Councilmember, Miller-Williams remembers some tough city and county budgets.
"I can remember those days when a lot of arts and cultural and health and human services, including our libraries, were at risk because the county's fiscal finances were in dire straits," she said. "We were not doing well then. Today, we're doing 100 percent better. There's no need to shut anything down or to lay people off or to press the panic button because fiscally. We're in a better position."
Miller-Williams said some spending cuts will have to made to spend county funds they way she wants.
"It's the art of negotiation," she said. "So while I've been able to find some funds that I'm going to eventually put out on the table to say, 'Can we do this?' I recognize it's a joint effort. I have to do it in conjunction with my colleagues across the board. I have to be able to convince my colleagues that this is a worthy cause and this is where we can take funds from, if we are all in agreement."