While the Gorski administration says Erie County is facing a fiscal crisis, Republican lawmakers insist enough money remains in the coffers to put more books on library shelves and restore funds to other programs.
Pointing to higher-than-anticipated sales-tax and interest earnings, the GOP lawmakers charge the Gorski administration is hoarding money at the expense of county residents.
Minority Leader Mary Lou Rath, R-Williamsville, predicted Monday that at the end of the year, the county will have a budget surplus, and County Executive Gorski will take credit for bringing the county out of a budget crisis that never existed.
"They are underestimating revenue and putting inflated amounts in expenses so they can cut back and point to efficient government," Mrs. Rath said. "What is happening is the people are being overtaxed and underserved."
County Executive Gorski and Budget Director Sheila Kee deny the charges. They charge the Republicans are being irresponsible, making premature predictions on county revenue, and ignoring the fact that state aid to the county was cut by $4 million in the middle of the county's 1989 budget year. A $9 million cut is scheduled for 1990, Gorski said.
"It's typical budgeting of the Republican party to spend money you don't have," Gorski said. "This comes from the party that brought this county to its fiscal knees in the mid-1980s, giving Erie County the worst bond rating in the state." "They are ignoring reality," Ms. Kee added. "We have $4.5 million in state aid losses."
As a result of the state budget cuts, belt-tightening measures were taken this year to ensure that the county doesn't end the fiscal year with a deficit, Ms. Kee said. If state aid is restored, additional spending will be approved, Gorski said.
Gorski said he would like to restore county aid to public benefit agencies, such as the Cooperative Extension organization, whose funding in 1989 was cut to 55 percent of the amount received in 1988.
Mrs. Rath and other Republicans question Gorski administration estimates on the impact of state budget cuts on the county. They believe the county already has the $700,000 needed to restore money to public benefit agencies, as well as additional money needed for other programs, such as libraries.
While the Republicans aren't offering any alternative figure on the impact of state budget cuts on Erie County, they infer that the county budget contains enough money to more than cover any actual cuts.
"We will end the year with a surplus," Mrs. Rath said. "How much, I don't know."
The Republicans note that according to county budget and comptroller's office reports, sales taxes came in $2 million ahead of county projections for the first three months of the year.
If tax receipts continue at the same pace as the first two months of 1989, the year-end surplus in that account could exceed $3.4 million, according to Legislator Frederick J. Marshall, R-East Aurora.
Ms. Kee, however, said the sales-tax figures for the first three months of the year are based partially on state estimates. It's too early to project sales-tax figures, which, she said, are very difficult to estimate.
"We have an obligation to be prudent about sales tax," Ms. Kee said. "It's a very, very difficult revenue to track. We hope that it comes in beyond budget, but it's premature for anyone, including myself, to be saying anything about sales-tax projections."
Republicans also noted that the county earned $888,000 more in interest on its investments during the first three months of the year than had been anticipated; meanwhile, interest payments associated with a bond sale held this year were $290,000 less than had been expected.
Ms. Kee said the anticipated interest earnings and payments were calculated by the county comptroller's office, who said there was no way to anticipate the more favorable rates over the past months.