The Erie County Legislature next month begins its most important task – reviewing in detail the budget proposed for the coming year, as a prelude to its formal adoption.
Unlike most budgets proposed in recent years, this one would raise taxes. To balance more than $1 billion in spending with revenue, County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz wants property taxes to rise by 3.4 percent for 2013. He would add $18 a year to the tax bill on a home assessed at $100,000.
Following tradition, the Legislature during the second week of November will call in department heads to describe their department’s spending and to sit for questions. The public is welcome at all sessions, on the fourth floor of Old County Hall, 92 Franklin St.
Sessions begin at 9 a.m. Nov. 13, with a budget presentation by Timothy Callan, the county’s deputy budget director. At 11, Elections Commissioner Ralph M. Mohr, a Republican, and Dennis E. Ward, a Democrat, discuss the Board of Elections budget. County Comptroller David Shenk will sit for lawmakers at 11:30. At 1 p.m., lawmakers will hear from Social Services Commissioner Carol Dankert, who heads the county’s largest department, through which state and federal dollars for social programs flows.
• Nov. 14: Morning sessions begin at 9 a.m. with the county clerk, followed by the commissioner for Environment and Planning; then the head of the Department of Emergency Medical Services; and the district attorney. At 1 p.m., Sheriff Timothy B. Howard’s team is to arrive; then the heads of Probation, Central Police Services and Emergency Services, in that order. Each session is expected to last up to an hour, but they often go longer or start late.
• Nov. 15: Budgets for the county executive’s suite and his budget team will be discussed at 9 a.m.; followed by the County Attorney’s Office, which oversees the fund from which lawsuits against the county are settled. Spending for the Department of Public Works, which handles infrastructure improvements, will begin at 10:15 a.m., followed by the Department of Parks, Recreation and Forestry.
After lunch and beginning at 1 p.m., the heads of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library discuss their 2013 needs with county lawmakers. They will be followed by the Department of Senior Services; the Office of Personnel and Labor Relations; and the Department of Information and Support Services, in that order.
Lawmakers have set aside Friday to call back department heads for further questions.
Legislator Edward A. Rath III, a Republican from Amherst and a member of the minority caucus that is more likely to challenge the Democrat Poloncarz, wants special attention paid to the cost of employee fringe benefits. As Erie County comptroller in 2011, Poloncarz accused then-Executive Chris Collins of inflating his estimates for the cost of fringe benefits, perhaps to provide another cushion for surprise expenses.
Rath, in a letter to Legislature Chairwoman Betty Jean Grant, D-Buffalo, notes that Poloncarz expects employee fringe benefits to jump even higher than Collins had projected for 2013, to nearly $127 million. Rath asked Grant to set aside time during the budget review to examine the cost of fringe benefits, which now account for 67 percent of the overall cost of a county employee. The Republican caucus is said to be united against any tax increase.
In her budget review schedule, the chairwoman set a public hearing on the 2013 budget for 5 p.m. Nov. 19, in the Erie County Legislature chambers on the fourth floor of Old County Hall.
She expects lawmakers will adopt a budget Dec. 4.