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No layoffs seen in 4-year plan for county; Poloncarz expects no tax-rate hike

County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz has released his first four-year financial plan, and compared with his predecessor's, it doesn't forecast dramatic changes to the county budget.

Gone are the proposals to slash hundreds of jobs from the Erie County payroll as then-County Executive Chris Collins put forth a year ago. "We're not anticipating doing layoffs going forward," Poloncarz said.

Here's how Poloncarz envisions county government will look four years from now:

*The number of county workers would remain about the same, with about 50 fewer jobs, which would be lost primarily through retirements through 2015.

*Libraries would see a slight uptick in revenue, while funding for Erie Community College would remain flat.

*The county tax rate would remain the same, although the county would take in more money as sales tax revenue increases and the assessed value of property grows.

What the four-year financial plan doesn't address are items that are still under negotiation: the potential for salary increases for union employees who have been working under expired contracts and changes to the county's lease arrangement with the Buffalo Bills.

Poloncarz, the former county comptroller, said he put together the updated financial plan with an eye toward revising expense and revenue projections that he felt were not adequately reflected in Collins' plans.

"It's an example of how we're going to do more realistic budgeting," Poloncarz said.

The four-year plan will face its first test on Friday, when the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority's finance committee meets to review the document.

The plan also gives one of the first official glimpses of how Poloncarz wants to shape the county's spending during his term.

Under the plan, countywide personnel costs -- including salaries, fringe benefits and other expenses -- are expected to increase by 7 percent to $317.8 million in 2015. Under the last four-year plan submitted by Collins, that number was estimated to hit $306.5 million.

Some of the difference, Poloncarz said, is that he expects to eliminate fewer jobs. But Poloncarz has also adjusted overtime and other personnel lines to numbers he believes are more accurate estimates of future personnel costs.

Poloncarz is also planning a steady, but modest, increase in county support for the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library. Under the new four-year plan, the portion of property tax revenue that the library receives would increase by 1 percent each year -- the same percentage of growth that Poloncarz forecasts for the county's general property tax revenue.

"If we have tax growth, then it's only fair that the library should see some sharing, as well," he said.

That would amount to an increase of $198,725 for the library next year if budget assumptions included in the four-year plan remain the same, according to Poloncarz's staff.

"We will be reviewing this with the [Buffalo & Erie County Public Library System] board of trustees to obtain their feedback and direction," Jack Connors, board chairman, said. "Any additional monies to benefit the library community are appreciated and would be put to good use."

Poloncarz, who has said he wants to renegotiate a new lease for Ralph Wilson Stadium with the Buffalo Bills by the time training camp starts, did not provide any hints in his four-year plan for what a new agreement might entail. He has kept annual game day expenses in the budget plan, adjusting slightly for inflation.

"We're going under the assumption that the Buffalo Bills are still going to be in town," he said. The current lease expires July 31, 2013.

Poloncarz said he believes this year and next will remain the most "worrisome" for the county. He then expects the county to see savings from Medicaid changes in the state budget.

"If we can get through this year and next year, I think we're going to be in much better shape, assuming that other things don't materially change," said Poloncarz, a Democrat.

Legislator Edward Rath III, a Republican, said he believes that job cuts and other budget changes implemented by Collins helped pave the way for a healthier county budget that doesn't pose as much of a challenge as in previous years.

"We made some very difficult, and I think necessary, decisions during the last four years to get Erie County's fiscal house back in order," Rath said.

email: djgee@buffnews.com