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Collins: a good fiscal steward; County executive deserves thanks for restoring order to county finances

Outgoing County Executive Chris Collins is leaving a parting gift behind, as the Standard & Poor's credit rating service boosted its assessment of county finances.

The agency increased its rating of the county's general obligation bonds from BBB to A-, citing the county's recent history of positive operating results and the county's "stable" outlook.

The ratings boost brings it in line with other agencies, Fitch Ratings and Moody's Investors Service.

It helped that after he was elected four years ago, Collins brought to the county's financial table some qualities desperately needed at a critical time for Erie County. His fiscally conservative policies stressed keeping spending under control. His budget policies were recognized by the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority when it went from a "hard" control board to advisory status.

Collins leaves the county with about a $72 million unrestricted fund balance, compared to practically zero when he came into office. After this year's accounts are settled, it appears the county will end this year with an additional $20 million to $30 million in the surplus.

Standard & Poor's noted that the county continues to face some risk factors, including an over-reliance on "economically sensitive" sales tax revenue. The sales tax funds about 53 percent of county operations, state aid accounts for 29 percent and local property taxes account for 16 percent.

To be sure, Collins built that surplus in part by cutting some services held dear by constituents, including libraries and cultural organizations. Some of those cuts helped pave the way for his defeat. But overall, his focus on good management, new technology and efficiency brought stability to the county after the chaos of the red-green budget controversy of the Giambra years.

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