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Majority of County Legislators Oppose Property Tax Hike

9:54 PM, Dec 2, 2012   |    comments
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The Erie County Legislators must vote on a budget before midnight Tuesday night.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- At least for now, a razor-thin majority of Erie County Legislators plan to oppose a 3.4% property tax hike proposed by the county executive.

"There are too many people hurting out there, and we have to do something to avoid this," Legislator Kevin Hardwick (R-Tonawanda) said Sunday evening.

The deadline for Erie County lawmakers to pass a budget is Tuesday night at midnight. If lawmakers fail to act, the county executive's budget will take effect by default.

County Executive Mark Poloncarz's budget would increase property taxes by an additional 18 dollars per year for a $100,000 home. Poloncarz has said a property tax hike is the best way to maintain the quality of life and programs the public demands.

But as of this weekend, the entire Republican caucus and one Democrat, Tom Loughran, have thrown their support behind a budget amendment that would make more budget cuts to avoid any tax increase. It is possible one of the supporters could switch his or her vote before the deadline to approve the budget. 

The county executive has been attacking the Republican-led proposal.

"We can't make phony, false cuts, sham cuts, on a document and assume that the expenses are going to disappear because they won't," Poloncarz said Thursday.

2 On Your Side also has learned the county's control board also is concerned that the Republican-led cuts may not balance the budget. The board's Executive Director, Ken Vetter, cited concerns in both the short-term and the long-term with the budget proposal. For example, Vetter said it is possible that eliminating the 3.4% proposed property tax hike could throw the county's four-year financial plan out of balance by more than $30 million. Additionally, Vetter said there is some concern among board members that the Republican-led cuts may not go deep enough to offset the loss in revenue from a tax hike.

REPORTER: Are these actual cuts, or are we going to end up having to pay for this stuff later?
HARDWICK: I don't think so. I mean, the sort of things we're looking at, for instance, the risk retention fund, is something that the county executive used last year when he was the comptroller and county executive-elect. He wanted us to eliminate the same line about the same the amount of money in Chris Collins's budget and use it to put back into the budget to pay for a lot of culturals and some other things that he wanted to add back into the budget. Now he is saying this is a sham. He's changed his tune in a year.

A member of the control board is expected to share the board's concerns with county legislators during a legislature committee meeting Monday at 10 a.m. Deputy County Executive Richard Tobe is expected to appear before the legislature as well to urge its members to approve the property tax increase.

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