Thursday “Collins Budget” Open Thread

16 Oct

If you have no job and/or all the time in the world, here’s a copy (.pdf) of the proposed 2009 Erie County budget that Chris Collins released yesterday.

The budget contains a 3.6% increase in property taxes, and cuts out funding to Vive la Casa and Meals on Wheels, to name a few.

With the hatchet being applied to certain services and a tax hike still being proposal, what hast Six Sigma wrought?

Collins has said his biggest challenge was closing a multi-million dollar budget gap created by such rising costs as fuel, health benefits, and asphalt. He said despite Six Sigma savings and cut-backs there was still not enough money to create a balanced budget without a tax increase.

Collins said he hopes to spend $50 million per year for the next four years on major capital projects across Erie County. He said major road and bridge improvements are needed and the county can’t afford to cutback in that area.

“It’s an appropriate expenditure to keep the quality of life vibrant in our community and to create a nice atmosphere for folks to come visit,” Collins said. “The fifty million dollars compares to past years that ranged from thirty-eight to fifty million.”

Road and bridge improvements are basic infrastructure – not something that contributes to our quality of life or a nice atmosphere. I can’t recall the last time someone lauded the way of life in Western New York for the phenomenal roads. I can just imagine a prospective Buffalo n00b saying, “Hey, the taxes are sky high and getting higher, and the libraries and cultural institutions are underfunded, but gosh darn Goodrich Road is smooth like glass.”

This, however, is the kind of stuff that is inexcusable given the prospect of a tax hike:

A $27,000 dollar bump for the Deputy Commissioner in the Division of Youth Services.

More than $21,000 dollars for the Social Services Commissioner.

An $11,000 dollar raise for the Budget Director and $10,000 dollars for the Health Commissioner.

County Executive Chris Collins says, “I did give out 2, 3 raises. I will defend them as those individuals as being deserving of an increase and me needing to do that to make sure they stay.”

Comptroller Mark Poloncarz says, “At the time he’s asking the taxpayers of Erie County to pay more, you would think this would have been an austerity budget on its face value but it really isn’t.”

Poloncarz says the biggest increase is indefensible. The Director of Information and Support Services was making $86,511 dollars. That position goes away and a new Chief Information Officer replaces it. That position pays $134,173 dollars.

Poloncarz says, “All they did was change the title, but by doing that, they’re creating a new job grade and as a result giving an almost $50,000 dollar raise. That’s almost unheard of. That person would be one of the highest paid people in Erie County.”

Well, in Erie County government, anyway. I never thought people went into government jobs because of how lucrative they were, and government jobs don’t need to be that competitive with the private sector because, frankly, the benefits are usually much better – easier hours, holidays left and right, pension & other benefits. Government work has its own attraction not to mention the fact that one’s motivation to take a high-level county position should also be, at least in part, a desire to be a public servant rather than personal enrichment.

But raises aren’t the only thing. Collins can cut money to culturals – which actually do contribute to our quality of life – but he’ll create new pinheaded management positions:

Collins is creating some new positions, too. There’s a new Assistant Commissioner of Administration in Social Services making $87,000 and a new Deputy Commissioner of Health making $85,000 dollars.

Collins says, “We’re restructuring that department and bringing in a business level manager to oversee business operations there.”

At least he’s not Assistant to the Commissioner of Administration in Social Services /David Brent & Michael Scott

Operating government like a business shouldn’t mean rewarding your loyal employees with raises or creating new $87,000 jobs. In Erie County, it should mean making do with less and trying to cut the tax burden – not raising it. Just imagine if Collins had run on a “big raises for management and property tax hike” platform. I doubt the CE race in 2007 would have been such a rout. Six Sigma is supposed to maximize those efficiencies, identify and eliminate waste. Collins ran to lower taxes, identifying our tax burden as part of what holds us back. So what gives? Instead, Collins is busy making bizarre, inappropriate budgetary and personnel decisions in very tight times indeed.

I don’t get it.

(PS – to the person who inevitably comments “Keane wouldn’t have been any better”, that’s 30,000 miles beside the point. KTHX).

21 Responses to “Thursday “Collins Budget” Open Thread”

  1. Hap Klein October 16, 2008 at 8:53 am #

    I agree with all of the above but also add that the hatchet chops many dear things that improve our quality of life but which remain anathema to conservatives. They just can’t stand government support of orchestra’s and museums.

    Another sad victim is the recycling guru Gary Carrel. I guess the state stopped their support and the county just doesn’t think its profitable to increase recycling even though it does save money. I do believe the Information job’s increase in pay is larger than the salary of the eliminated position. Strange world- we pay more for less long term benefit.

    The Soil and Water folk are back on the conservative chopping block. This is another outfit that generates income from outside sources and helps coordinate many under the radar benefits to the county.

    Whatever happened to the guy who was elected to office to bring a business discipline to government. there have been no big changes except Collin’s appointment and pay raises for his personal crew. Everything is the same except they have matching shirts.

    Uniforms and hatchet jobs on the culturals are the new style of county government?

  2. indabuff October 16, 2008 at 8:56 am #

    Poloncarz 2011

  3. pirate's code October 16, 2008 at 9:10 am #

    Like any municipal budget, there’s lots in there for different groups to hate. The jobs/raises thing seems to defy explanation. Unless an increase in pay is contractual, it would seem anytime there is a proposed tax hike that new positions and large raises should get the most intense level of scrutiny.

    I would argue, BP, that basic infrastructure does indeed impact the overall quality of life. Collins’ rhetoric was over the top, but sewer, water, roads and so on are so easily taken for granted until they suck. With roads and bridges, the issue of fundamental safety is involved, as well. Folks can argue about whether or not govt. should be involved in the cultural aspects of our lives, but is there any question that a basic job of government is public safety? (And before some asks or accuses, I don’t work for the county, don’t work for a company that provides any of those services, but I did once live on an county road that looked like the surface of the moon for about five years.)

    BTW, I thought I heard on the news last night that the Meals on Wheels funding cut is a bit of a red herring. Collins explained that the amount in the last budget was only intended to be a one-time thing to help them build/remodel a kitchen, and was not intended as yearly funding.

    @indabuff — “Poloncarz 2011” No kidding. He’s been running for county exec since the moment he took office.

  4. WNYPMH October 16, 2008 at 9:20 am #

    I guess what’s most disturbing about the raises are that from a percentage standpoint, they are way higher than anyone (other than Wall Street CEO’s) get.

    I do agree that infrastructure projects need to be adressed, because when let go they become enormously expensive. They also do drive some jobs.

  5. Dave A. October 16, 2008 at 9:53 am #

    I’ll add two my two cents to the infrastructure discussion. Infrastructure is what attracts business. Buffalo became Buffalo because canal made it cheaper and convenient for businesses to operate here. I suspect that in some residential areas, it affects home values.

  6. Joanne L. Capone October 16, 2008 at 11:19 am #

    It seems the time has come for citizens to examine the concept that businessmen and fresh faces are what government requires.

    Chris Collins takes the approach that only the Executive Branch of Govt. matters. He takes the approach of many in the past who favored dictatorship modus operandi. After all, Mussolini made sure the trains in Italy ran on time.

    However, the wisdom of those who developed the Constitution of the US (and those who developed the Constitution of NYS), knew that all three branches of Govt. are vital to democracy. Legislators represent the people and are directly accountable to them. They are the overseers of the Executive Branch to insure that monies appropriated are used wisely.
    They are one check on the Executives who may or may not always act in the best interest of “We the People”. The Judicial Branch also is vital in our system of checks and balances.

    In the debacle we see of the financial markets…assuredly there exists blame in all branches of Govt…at all levels of Govt…and enormous blame on the failures of business to be ethical in their dealings with respect to subprime mortgages. Greed got in the way of sound business practices and now the entire economy of the US and much of the world markets is on the verge of collapse from enormous debt.

    I hope our County Legislature stands strong to make sure our County is well run and that our quality of life does not deteriorate because of greed factors. Chris Collins may well be a very decent person. However, he may not truly be a person who can deal with the needs of the average citizen in Erie County or the public blue collar employees.

    People should recognize the beauties of democracy and not allow any person to ride roughshod over any branch of government.

    I believe Chris Collins needs an introduction to American Govt. to supplement his businessman steamroller persona.

  7. Mike In WNY October 16, 2008 at 1:06 pm #

    After reading through approximately 25% of the budget, I would make the following changes: Reduce # of Legislators to 9; trim 15% off the following budgets – Legislative, County Executive, Budget & Management, Comptroller’s Budget, Real Estate, Law, Personnel, Labor Relations and EEO; also, eliminate the Office of Public Advocacy. Total savings – $4,528,243.

    More to come.

  8. sbrof October 16, 2008 at 1:23 pm #

    wow… It’s so comforting when we as a society value roads and asphalt over food and culture. Sad day for Erie County. The car rules above all else.

  9. George Fontana October 16, 2008 at 1:25 pm #

    Reduce the Comptroller’s Office by 15%? That office is operating in 2008 at nearly half the staff it had prior to the red/green budget debacle and Mike from North Buffalo wants to cut it? Poloncarz’s watchdog office is the unit watching over the County’s finances and business. It shouldn’t be cut.

  10. sbrof October 16, 2008 at 1:33 pm #

    Maybe it is time to start building roads out of materials that have a longer lifespan than 15 winters… Maybe not for everything but there are a lot of side streets and lower traffic streets that would look nicer and last a lot longer with cobble or brick. I feel like we have put ourselves in a situation where we can never hope to have the money to properly repave everything every 15-20 yrs.

  11. buffalomom October 16, 2008 at 1:57 pm #

    chris collins is an asshole. give raises to your buddies and stick it to the blue collar workers.

    nice. he’s eliminating the youth recreation coordinator position. doesn’t affect him and his buddies. i’m sure his kids have a great time at whatever country clubs they belong to. nice.


  12. Chris Smith October 16, 2008 at 2:20 pm #

    Abolish county government, it’s supposed to exist as a delivery mechanism for state services, nothing more. Move the cost of delivery back to the state where the mandates are written. If local control of a program is needed, give it directly to the city/town/village.

  13. Prodigal Son October 16, 2008 at 2:48 pm #

    Chris – I’d be down with that. When everyone that lives in the county also lives in a city, town or village (or maybe two of the three), why even have that level?

    Capone – Three branches of government would be nice. Unfortunately, our legislature is so imcompetant, Collins got the apprenticeship sweetheart union rule change by them because they were so asleep at the wheel, nobody checked their Inbox for 60 days. Don’t hold your breath for any stand, strong or weak, from this Legislature. I don’t blame Collins for being dismissive – you may disagree with his priorities, but at least he’s competant.

    I can’t defend the pay raises, but I think the rest of the budget is sane. I am a supporter of the BPO and other culturals, but a 5% drop in funding is not the end of the world. And tell folks in Minneapolis that roads and bridges aren’t worth funding. After all the flak the county took about roads and parks and birdges falling apart, how do you not keep investing in those.

  14. pirate's code October 16, 2008 at 4:19 pm #

    @ buffalomom — “nice. he’s eliminating the youth recreation coordinator position. doesn’t affect him and his buddies. i’m sure his kids have a great time at whatever country clubs they belong to. nice.

    Looks like he eliminated the youth rec. coordinator ($46,378) and created the director of recreation ($48,943). I don’t have any more specifics than that (and I’m guessing you don’t either), but I’ll just assume you’ll continue to think of him as an asshole no matter what, eh?

    Kettle, say hello to pot.

  15. eliz. October 16, 2008 at 4:36 pm #

    Actually, I was amazed he even mentioned the culturals. It’s not common for our local pols. Giambra zeroed them a couple years back with very little explanation of it. I don’t think 5% is too bad compared to that.

    I tend to agree with BP on the rest.

  16. Mike In WNY October 16, 2008 at 6:03 pm #

    Eliminate all cultural funding. Many county residents can’t afford the ticket prices and admission charges. Why let a bunch of bureaucrats decide what is art and what isn’t? Let people voluntarily make that decision with their own money.

  17. buffaloobserver October 17, 2008 at 9:17 am #

    Collins eliminated the youth recreation coordinator and created a new postion of Recreation Director at a higher salary. Nice! I wonder which one of his friends is getting rewarded. Also in the Parks budget, he creates 3 new positions of Crew Chief that pay more than what the Parks Superintendents used to make before they were eliminated by Giambra.
    I agree with buffalomom–Collins is an ***hole!

  18. Mike October 17, 2008 at 9:25 am #

    “There is just the right amount of pain for everyone in this budget, including $18 for the average homeowner” – Chris Collins

    Everyone but his commissioners who will receive $1 million in raises in this budget!

    Too bad the $18 for the average homeowner, is $18 per thousand of assessed value, which when compared to the average home value will mean an average increase of about $2000.

  19. Buffalo Mark October 17, 2008 at 9:39 am #

    My office will be issuing a compehensive report on the budget in a couple of weeks. We are finding more items as we go along.

    In regard to the WGRZ website story, when I read “my” quotes I thought “Did I actually say it that way,” especially as it pertains to the quote “That person would be one of the highest paid people in Erie County.”

    What I actually said, now that it can be watched online, is “That person would be one of the most highly paid employees in Erie County.”

    Also, the web report has my quote as saying, “At the time he’s asking the taxpayers of Erie County to pay more, you would think this would have been an austerity budget on its face value but it really isn’t.”

    But I actually said, “At the time he’s asking the taxpayers of Erie County to pay more you would think this would have been an austerity budget, but on its face value it definitely isn’t.”

    They also changed the county executive’s quotes.

    Now why do I bring this up? Because this isn’t the first time Channel 2 has altered my comments and one time previously they changed it so badly that (1) it made it seem like I couldn’t put two words together, and (2) it changed my meaning so much that the words were used against me.

    Just a cautionary tale of quoting what Channel 2 prints on its site as the “actual” comments of anybody.

  20. pirate's code October 17, 2008 at 11:51 am #

    @ mike — “Too bad the $18 for the average homeowner, is $18 per thousand of assessed value, which when compared to the average home value will mean an average increase of about $2000.”

    Umm, no it doesn’t. Use Amherst as an example. Current county tax rate is $5.51 per $1,000. A home assessed at $100,000 paid $551 and change in county taxes last year. A 3.6 percent increase would add approx. $19.84 to the bill.

    To get to your figures, the tax rate would have to increase by more than 360 percent, not 3.6.

  21. FoxyLady October 18, 2008 at 10:58 pm #

    I just have to get the hell out of New York State and Erie County. Too damn much government, too much tax burden, can’t afford to stay here any longer like many others.

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