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Legislature sets hearing schedule for 2015 budget

The Erie County Legislature has released its schedule of hearings with department officials on the proposed 2015 budget that was submitted by County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz last week.

The hearings will start at 9 a.m. Nov. 17 with a presentation by the county executive’s budget team of his $1.43 billion spending plan, which is $39.7 million or 2.86 percent higher than the current year’s $1.4 billion budget. Poloncarz’s 2015 budget plan maintains the current year’s property tax rate of $5.03 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

During the week-long series of hearings, lawmakers will get to question the administration’s 13 department heads, as well as the heads of the sheriff’s, comptroller’s, clerk’s, and district attorney’s offices, and the director of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library on their departmental budgets.

County residents will get to weigh in on the overall plan at a public hearing set for 5 p.m. Nov. 24.

The Legislature will hold its annual budget meeting at 2 p.m. Dec. 2., when a final 2015 budget plan is scheduled for adoption. All of the hearings will take place in the Legislature Chambers on the fourth floor of the Old Erie County Hall, 92 Franklin St.

Meanwhile, Poloncarz on Friday said he sent a letter to the Legislature in response to Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw’s claim that the county executive’s 2015 budget proposal included a “massive increase in spending” due to “pork and patronage.”

Poloncarz said Mychajliw failed to provide any evidence to support those allegations, which were made shortly after the county executive released his plan.

“As has become a hallmark of his administration, Comptroller Mychajliw has chosen to make a number of inaccurate statements that mislead the public and the Legislature,” Poloncarz said. “While this may generate the media attention he so craves, it does an injustice to the Legislature as the purported ‘information’ he provides is inaccurate and will be worthless for budget deliberations.”

He also accused the comptroller of deliberately omitting key details in his review of the county executive’s budget, including an $8.75 million increase in sales tax revenue, a portion of which is shared with local municipalities and school districts, yet must still be included in the total budget.

Poloncarz said other drivers of the proposed increase are an $8.5 million increase in negotiated union salaries and benefits, and a $4.9 million increase in state-mandated safety net assistance costs.

The county executive also accused the comptroller of demonstrating confusion over basic accounting principles, specifically the difference between fund balance and liquidity.

“Finally, the comptroller’s claim that the 2015 budget is filled with new ‘pork and patronage’ is another example of his empty generalizations,” Poloncarz said.

“It is the height of hypocrisy for Mr. Mychajliw to talk about patronage when he’s filled his office with former Republican Legislature staff members who have absolutely no background in accounting, finance or auditing while he is actively trying to terminate and lay off career civil service auditors at the same time,” Poloncarz added.