Erie County Comptroller David J. Shenk, facing a tough election in just two days, issued a report on Saturday rejecting the proposal of County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz for a 3.4 percent property tax increase.
The timing of Democrat Shenk’s proposal brought an immediate response from his Republican opponent in Tuesday’s election, Stefan Mychajliw. He called the proposal “desperate.”
Still, Shenk said that though his review is not yet comprehensive, he sees the possibility of several alternatives to a tax hike.
“During these challenging economic and financial times for county home and property owners, residents should not be subjected to a tax increase,” Shenk said. “Our citizens as taxpayers are burdened with some of the highest taxes in New York State and the nation, and the looming expiration of the temporary reduction of employees’ Social Security payroll taxes will adversely impact workers.
“The Legislature must use all other means to avoid the proposed property tax increase and bridge the $8 million gap,” he said.
Poloncarz has proposed a $1.38 billion budget that relies on a 3.4 percent property tax increase, as well as job cuts and surplus funds, to balance spending as expenses increased and revenues declined.
Most of the spending increases, Poloncarz said, are in areas over which the county has almost no control, such as Medicaid expenses and pension costs.
The county executive has described the proposed tax increase as necessary to maintain services such as libraries and aid to arts and cultural organizations during what he describes as a “perfect storm” of rising costs and a loss of revenue.
But Shenk said that as a last resort, $7.4 million in the assigned fund balance dedicated to a potential new building on the ECC North Campus could be used to offset the proposed tax increase.
“All or part of these funds might be repurposed this year and combined with other savings, such as a reduction in the proposed amount to be funded to the Risk Retention Fund, in order to avoid the tax increase,” the comptroller said.
But Mychajliw, while also rejecting any notion of an increase in property taxes, accused Shenk of “saying anything two days before election.”
He also reiterated his contention that Shenk could have helped prevent the addition of almost $1 million to the budget gap had he advocated the county control board as a borrowing vehicle (because of available lower interest rates) rather than the county itself.
“It’s unfortunate that the appointed comptroller wasted almost $1 million by forcing taxpayers to borrow at a higher interest rate,” he said.
“I absolutely oppose the property tax increase,” he added, “but the appointed comptroller had a chance to go against the wishes of his friend and boss – the county executive.”