The Democratic majority in the Erie County Legislature on Tuesday approved an amendment to the county executive’s spending plan for 2014 that would shift $467,239 in expenditures to cover the cost of some added jobs and increased aid to cultural agencies.
The retooling, which was rejected by the Republican-aligned minority in the Legislature, would neither add to nor take away from the overall $1.39 billion budget as originally proposed by County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz more than a month ago. However, it would allow for a $338,000 increase in salary and fringe benefits at the Board of Elections, among other adjustments and additions to the budget.
Democrat Lynn M. Marinelli of the Town of Tonawanda, the longest serving member currently in the Legislature, described the changes as small.
“There’s not been too many years where budget amendments are as minimal to a $1.39 billion document as this one,” Marinelli said.
Still, the GOP aligned minority – which will take over as the majority on Jan. 1 – introduced an amendment to cut $8.6 million from the budget proposal but the amendment was defeated. Their aim, they said, was to avoid having the county participate in a state pension-stabilization program that would allow payment of about $32 million of the county’s estimated $40 million state pension bill next year.
Despite the Democrats having signed off on Poloncarz’s plan in a split party vote last week, the Legislature’s minority characterizes the deferment on pension payments as “kicking the can down the road on pension payments.”
Similarly, Democrats on Tuesday defeated a plan by Legislator Kevin Hardwick, R-City of Tonawanda, to reduce the amount of borrowing from the state to $6.6 million, while having the Fiscal Stability Authority borrow the remaining $2 million. Under his proposal, Hardwick said the county would be borrowing at a much lower interest rate and, possibly save $2 million in interest payments over the 10-year life of the state loan.
“We would still be kicking the can down the road, but it would be a smaller can,” Hardwick said.
Meanwhile, under an amendment approved by the Democratic majority, $217,239 in benefits would be cut for Erie County Medical Center employees still covered under the county’s worker compensation program, while $250,000 in professional service contracts, rental charges and other expenses would be trimmed from the Board Elections’ expenditures.
Those funds would be shifted to accommodate increased assistance to four local cultural groups; cover the cost of a new position in Information and Support Services, and fund additional salaries and benefits at the Board of Elections.
As amended, the Hamburg National Historical Society, Road Less Traveled Productions and African American Cultural Center would each receive county aid increases ranging between just under $6,000 and up to $10,000 beyond what was budgeted in Poloncarz’s 2014 spending plan. In addition, the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy would receive $10,000 toward the cost of a $45,000 restoration of the Rose Garden pergola in Delaware Park. The amendment also includes the addition of $25,000 to fund a study of child neglect in Erie County.