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Comptroller sounds 'alarm' about budget

Erie County's budget, viewed by many as narrowly balanced and sensitive to change, may face the one thing it doesn't need -- a $13 million hit to its bottom line.

County Comptroller Mark C. Poloncarz issued a warning Monday suggesting that two issues -- the county's lack of a tax lien sale and its continuing dispute about funding with Erie County Medical Center -- could result in red ink this year.

Poloncarz stopped well short of predicting a budget deficit but, in his second-quarter financial report, indicated that there are dark clouds in the county's fiscal forecast.

"I feel the need to sound an alarm," the comptroller said.

Poloncarz said the county's fiscal outlook is showing some positive signs, most notably higher-than-expected sales tax revenues, but probably not enough to offset the loss of funding from the tax lien and ECMC disputes.

The 2007 budget, for example, assumes that the county will collect $4 million as part of a tax lien sale, but that is not likely to happen this year, given the county control board's opposition to the sale.

County Hall expected to draw in millions of dollars by selling an outside company the right to collect and keep the overdue property taxes the county has been unable to collect on its own.

Poloncarz said the dispute with the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority will cost the county $4 million this year and, ultimately, as much as $7 million to $40 million.

"[The control board's] failure to approve a good deal for the taxpayers of Erie County is unacceptable," he said.

The county also stands to lose money it was required to give ECMC as part of a federal program covering the losses that public hospitals incur from treating patients who are poor and uninsured.

The county had to surrender the $8.8 million, even though county officials thought that the money should go to the county as part of court-approved consent decree covering county support for ECMC.

Poloncarz said the two issues could result in a $12.8 million hit to the budget.


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