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Examining the Erie County budget

The following is a guest column by Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.

November is the season for budget hearings in Erie County, and soon legislators will be hearing about the responsible, balanced 2014 budget proposal that my administration submitted on Oct. 15. While there are many facets of the proposed budget that will be discussed, one of the biggest items to note is that, despite increases in state-mandated expenses and declines in revenue, the property tax rate will not be going up this year. With careful stewardship of taxpayer dollars and close scrutiny of spending, throughout the year, we were able to hold the line on taxes and even anticipate ending 2013 with a modest surplus. That is good news, in this Thanksgiving season.

There are many other positive notes in the proposed budget. Erie County motorists will be happy to see that more than $36 million is slated for continuing investments in roads, bridges and infrastructure. As you may know, Erie County has more miles of road than the states of Delaware, Rhode Island and Hawaii, so there are many miles to cover. Following a successful 2013, that saw approximately $34 million spent on roads in every corner of the county, I am sure that our highway department will once again be up to the task of maintaining our vital transportation assets.

The budget’s reinvestment in the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library means that they will receive new funding for operations, along with new capital funding, to allow for the purchase of a new bookmobile. The Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, recipients of $1 million in funding in 2013, are scheduled to receive an additional $2 million in 2014, for the rehabilitation of greenhouses at their site. The proposed budget also calls for nearly $68,000 in new funding for cultural organizations, $100,000 for the creation of a new greater Toronto-area economic office, to assist Canadian and foreign companies in locating here and $5 million for work at Erie Community College, to bolster college science, engineering, technology and mathematics programs. As you see, we are moving forward in many areas.

We are also underscoring our commitment to the “People’s Mandates,” those programs that residents expect and demand and that encompass a wide spectrum of services. The proposed budget supports Operation Primetime for summer youth programming, commits funding to ongoing repairs and renovations, throughout the county parks system, and creates three new positions in the Department of Health to administer critical cancer screening programs for under- and uninsured county residents.

These are just a few of the many positive items contained in the proposed budget. As you hear more about it, in the coming weeks, I encourage you to contact your legislator and urge them to pass it. As I close this month, I would like to take a moment to wish a very happy Thanksgiving to all Erie County residents and their families. I am blessed and honored to serve as your county executive, and will continue to work as hard as I can to represent, promote and build our great county.
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