At 5pm on the fourth floor of Old County Hall at 92 Franklin Street, the Erie County Legislature will hear from practically every single group that gets so much as a penny of county money. Culturals, health clinics, refugee agencies, libraries, animal shelters, etc. will all be represented in what will surely be a standing room only meeting.
Erie County lawmakers are expecting a full house for their public hearing Wednesday on the 2009 budget, which cuts aid for some community programs, such as Cornell Cooperative Extension, and raises taxes, fees and the salaries for some top department heads.
Lawmakers already are dialed into the Cooperative Extension’s problems, which would include the elimination of its 4-H Youth Development program, Master Gardeners, Eat Smart New York Nutrition program and the Heat Smart New York program if the extension loses a $295,000 grant from the county.
Meanwhile, lawmakers hope to reduce the tax increase. The budget proposed by County Executive Chris Collins requires about 8 percent more in property tax revenues over last year, when not including the property tax money set aside for the Buffalo and Erie County Library System. However, the increase in the tax rate amounts to 3.6 percent.
Collins says that adds just $18 a year to the county tax bill on a $100,000 home.
Collins did, indeed, pledge during his campaign that a tax hike was not on his agenda, yet here we are. What I’d love to find out, and I don’t know if it’s been released or studied in any meaningful way, is how much waste and inefficiency have been excised from county government through Six Sigma implementation or from city government through CitiStat. What I’d also like someone to point out is that the county charter was amended a year or so ago to mandate a performance-based budget. The 2008 budget was not, nor does the 2009 budget appear to be, performance-based. So how is it legal? It’s violative of the fricking charter – the county’s constituent document.
I’d also like to know why some department heads and other Collins appointees deserve a massive raise – a RAISE – when the county budget is such that a tax hike is necessary? If one is running county like a business, don’t you defer the raises until they’re revenue-neutral? A politician raises appointee pay in a year when services are being slashed and tax hikes are needed – a politician does it to guarantee loyalty.
So tonight, all and sundry will complain, beg, and cajole. Bring popcorn.