Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz on Monday followed through with a promise to veto $195,134 in spending that legislators added to the 2013 county budget, but it appeared likely that legislators would override that decision.
The vetoes will go to a vote today as the Legislature takes final action to formally adopt the $1.37 billion spending plan.
The extra money would pay for a grant administrator in the Comptroller’s Office that Poloncarz had tried to cut, as well as funding for the Amherst Symphony Orchestra, the Operation Prime Time youth program and overtime in the County Clerk’s Office.
Poloncarz, who disapproved of $8.5 million the Legislature cut from his budget last week, told legislators he was not opposed to all of the vetoed items but felt “forced to address a major structural imbalance in the 2013 budget” after the Legislature’s changes. “In light of such drastic amendments I cannot support additional spending,” he wrote to the legislators on Monday.
Poloncarz also left the door open to more action on the budget. “In addition, please be advised that my administration is conducting a legal review of all amendments passed as part of the 2013 budget for their adherence to state and county law and the charter,” he wrote, “and we reserve the right to exercise any and all options that may be available to us.”
The county executive can seek to block expenses the Legislature adds to the budget but cannot veto spending cuts. The 11-member Legislature needs eight votes to override a budget veto. It appeared Monday that there would be enough votes to keep each of the vetoed items in the budget.
That would include the $93,987 grant administrator in the Comptroller’s Office and $63,647 in fringe benefits for the job. All of the legislators last week approved restoring the position, but they differed on whether the salary should be set at entry-level wages or at the pay scale of the 27-year county employee who currently holds the civil service job.
It was restored at the higher salary of $93,987 by a 7-4 vote, meaning it would take only one more vote to override Poloncarz’s veto.
Legislator Lynn M. Marinelli, a Town of Tonawanda Democrat, said Monday she would support restoring the job, despite the fact that it was at a higher salary than she voted for last week along with four other Democrats during a lengthy budget meeting.
“I would have preferred it at step zero,” Marinelli said. “But I think you heard after four hours of discussion, my concerns are on the larger lines that were cut that I believe still are cut too drastically.”
The job of grant administrator, who oversees accounting for about $35 million in grants throughout county departments, is held by Gregory Gach. He was budget director under former County Executive Chris Collins.
“It’s a critically important position for the Comptroller’s Office,” said Stefan Mychajliw, a Republican who will take office as comptroller in January, “one that ensures that the county is in compliance with social service grants that help the poor.”
County Comptroller David J. Shenk, who will leave office next month, also has told legislators the job is important to his office, but a deputy budget director in the Poloncarz administration has told legislators the position could be “adequately handled by the deputy comptroller.”
The vetoed items included $10,000 for the Amherst Symphony, an additional $20,000 for Operation Prime Time and $7,500 for overtime in the Registrar’s Division of the County Clerk’s Office. All three items were returned to the budget by a unanimous vote last week, leaving enough votes to override Poloncarz’s veto if the votes remain the same today.
The $1.37 billion budget, which includes about $326.3 million in sales tax revenue that is passed on to local governments and schools, would not raise the county property tax rate after legislators narrowly approved the spending cuts last week.
Poloncarz, however, has said he will have to make “additional, real spending cuts” because he believes several of the budget lines that were reduced last week will still need to be spent. “As the county’s chief budget officer, I am now required to implement strict austerity measures throughout the government and to make cuts that will bring the budget back into balance,” Poloncarz wrote to legislators.