2016 Budget: Let's Talk About the Facts
Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper elucidates her 2016 budget proposal.
On Oct. 1, I presented County Council with my proposed budget for the coming year. Many hours and much thought went into the plan I put forth. In the past few days I have heard the concerns of the citizens of Erie County. Facts have been misunderstood, figures misrepresented, — and it is important that you, as taxpayers, understand exactly what I am proposing. So let's talk about the facts.
When I took office last year, I was handed a deficit budget in a tough economy. The last increase in Erie County taxes was instituted in 2010, under then-County Executive Mark DiVecchio. When in office, my predecessor did not raise taxes and instead recklessly spent reserve funds in order to balance the budget. Spending reserve funds is like using your savings to pay the electric bill. I refuse to support such a short-sighted approach to governance.
Since I took office in Jan., 2014, my team and I have worked tirelessly to cut costs. We trimmed $2.7 million in wage and fringe costs in 2015. We implemented server virtualization in the IT department and saved taxpayers $400,000. We cut down on costs of employee out-of-county travel, and with the closing of Pleasant Ridge Manor East, we will save $1.4 million next year. Every day I strive to cut costs, but unfortunately cutting costs is not enough to balance our budget.
The .45 mill increase I have requested is not to fund 19 new positions in my office. I have indeed made a request for one additional employee in my office. The other 18 positions have been requested by other elected officials and department heads. As the County Executive, I have honored those requests and included them in the proposal. It will now be up to each of these elected officials and department heads to make their case to you and to County Council. Even if County Council does not approve any of the 19 positions requested, the tax increase will still be needed.
Some of requested positions fit into the portion of my proposal that will assist our economic resurgence. The Health Department, for example, requested the addition of a Grant Writer and Accreditation Coordinator to help Erie County get our fair share of federal dollars. We have not been applying for enough grants and as a result taxpayers are losing out when those dollars go to other communities.
The Planning Department requested the addition of a planner to help combat the planning void we have in Erie County. The addition of this position will allow the department to be a resource to all 38 of our municipalities, and will benefit every corner of our county.
The library requested two positions directly tied to the opening of the Blasco Idea Lab, a collaborative space and resource that will fuel Erie County's entrepreneurial spirit. Our community has always been a "maker metro" and it is important to provide resources to reinvigorate our entrepreneurial environment. This is a key component of our economic revival.
These positions are all investments in our future and will enrich Erie County. However, beyond my vision there are mandated services that Erie County must provide. Public Safety is a mandated service and the long awaited Next Generation Radio System will save lives; the debt on the bond for this project is an investment in our future.
The cost of protecting our children has increased dramatically since the passage of Act 126. More caseworkers are needed in the Office of Children and Youth (OCY) to investigate and handle cases of child abuse. This year alone OCY has seen a 60 percent increase in the number of serious child abuse cases reported.
In addition to maintaining county services, my proposed budget is an investment in our future as a community by supporting the Summer JAMs program for our youth and supporting EMERGE 2040. The fact is, if we eliminate some or all of these investments I am proposing for Erie County's growth, we will still need a tax increase of .44 mills to remain solvent for the coming years. The cost of providing mandated services continues to increase while revenues remain flat. The only way to change this trajectory is to invest in growing our region.
Twice in the last five years Mayor Sinnott and the City of Erie have raised taxes. The increase in 2015 was almost double what I have proposed this year, and the 2012 more than tripled it. All government entities in our region are facing the same challenges – increased mandates and flat revenue. The only way to change this pattern is to invest in growing our region. By creating a more vibrant economy, revenues will increase and reduce the future tax burden on property owners.
The bottom line is simple. If you own a $100,000 property, your taxes will increase $3.75 a month under the budget I proposed on Oct. 1. For many residents in the county, this monthly amount will be less, in proportion to the value of their property. For those who do not own property, there is no tax increase. For an average of $3.75, we can invest in our county and be responsible fiscally.
Knowing that we are working to create a brighter future for our children and grandchildren, we can move Erie County forward together.
Times may be tough and decisions difficult, but I am committed to doing what is right.
And that is a fact.
You can follow Kathy Dahlkemper on Twitter: @Kdahlkemper, Instagram: Kathy_Dahlkemper, and keep in touch via her Facebook page: Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.