The following is a guest article from Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz:
On March 8 I delivered my 2018 State of the County address at the Buffalo Museum of Science, which is currently undergoing a dramatic renovation of its iconic rooftop observatory with $500,000 of county assistance. Later this year the observatory will reopen and, for the first time ever, individuals with disabilities will have access to the Museum roof thanks to a new elevator that has been installed. It’s an exciting time for the Museum and underscores the many ways in which Erie County can lead the way in building a better future for our children and grandchildren.
The address provided an opportunity to update residents on the many successes of 2017 but also to put out a call for shared action on lowering taxes. We have new laws in place offering stronger protections for seniors and for minors, a new agreement with ECMC, our regions only Level 1 trauma center, to build a new state-of-the-art emergency department and Erie County is leading the way in creating a cleaner, greener county through adherence to the Paris Climate Agreement. Elsewhere, we saw a welcome decline in opioid-related fatalities in Erie County in 2017, to no more than 268 compared to the 301 we saw in 2016. Our coordinated response, spearheaded by the Opioid Epidemic Task Force, is making a difference and saving lives. There are many other successes as well.
While Erie County has led the way in making these things a reality, now is the time to explore new ways to serve county residents more efficiently today and in the future. In 2017, Governor Andrew Cuomo mandated that local municipalities must participate in a shared services plan to reduce costs. We did so in 2015 and again in 2017, and as a result shared service planning has led to nearly $25 million in annual savings for county taxpayers. Now, Albany intends to make these panels an annual occurrence, an idea that needs expansion to realize even more savings for taxpayers.
In 2017, the total tax levy for Erie County was $1.8 billion, but only 36 percent of that total was levied by the county, cities, towns and villages. The remaining 64 percent was levied by school districts, fire districts and other special districts that government has no control over. These are entities that drive property tax growth but are currently not required to participate on the shared services panel. This must change, and that’s why I am calling on NYS to do what it must do if we are to remain competitive: require school and other districts to sit on shared service panels and provide incentives to merge these districts to reduce unnecessary expenses. These districts make up nearly two-thirds of your tax bill. They must reduce their costs, especially high-level administrative expenses. We can reduce costs without closing a school or laying off a single teacher. This will result in millions more in savings for taxpayers and is an idea I will be presenting in upcoming public meetings countywide.