The issue of diverting Erie County's 1 percent dedicated sales tax has again surfaced in the public arena. From a revenue standpoint, diversion of the tax would bring short-term relief to the cities of Buffalo, Lackawanna and Tonawanda.
However, the immediate cuts in essential county services such as libraries and public health, or the equally objectionable alternative of increasing county taxes, would have a substantial negative impact upon all the residents of Erie County.
Most communities would lose in real terms if Erie County no longer had the recourse of funding county operations with the dedicated sales tax. The Town of Amherst, for example, would lose $3.4 million. The Town of Cheektowaga would lose $1.5 million. The Town of Hamburg would lose $600,000 and so on. These losses include consideration of school aid distributions.
Erie County already provides one of the most generous sales tax sharing agreements of any county in the state. Counties of comparable size such as Westchester and Suffolk share none of their local sales tax.
Erie County shares approximately two cents out of the four, including consideration of the dedicated 1 percent. With the commitment this year of an additional share to preserve mass transit, both the 1991 and 1992 contributions and an even larger share in 1993, the total sharing will be well in excess of 50 percent of all sales tax revenues.
To expect Erie County and its property taxpayers to sacrifice further by sharing the sales tax is simply a formula for fiscal chaos in Erie County.
The county has suffered the loss of $17 million annually in state and federal revenue sharing. Our Medicaid local share budget will increase $11 million next year.
Demands for libraries, cultural institutions, parks, the hospital, and other services, many of which were picked up from the City of Buffalo, have never been more poignant.
The progress that we have made in providing the necessary level of services within a framework of fiscal stability requires a reasonably broad revenue base. Using the sales tax to fund countywide operations eases the pressure on property taxpayers. More people pay sales tax than property taxes. Whether someone is a renter, tourist or a Canadian shopping in one of our malls, their contribution broadens our revenue base and provides relief to county homeowners.
In conclusion, Mayor Griffin's proposal to divert county sales tax revenues would translate into severe cuts and property tax increases. It is nothing more than a political maneuver to shift the mayor's responsibility to make tough budget decisions onto the backs of all homeowners in Erie County, particularly those in suburban and rural areas.
DENNIS T. GORSKI
Erie County Executive