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Clerk seeks dedicated funding for road repair

Erie County Clerk Christopher L. Jacobs has teamed with Republicans in the County Legislature to promote a proposed local law aimed at redirecting all excess revenues from the clerk’s office and dedicating it exclusively for the maintenance and repair of county-owned roads and bridges.

Currently, those revenues – as much as $4 million a year – go into the county’s general fund and are allocated for other purposes, said Legislator Edward A. Rath III, R-Amherst, who joined Jacobs for a news conference Friday at the auto bureau in the Rath County Office Building.

“I think it’s a great day in Erie County for the drivers and residents of our community, because what we’re proposing with this local law is to dedicate these (auto bureau) revenues for the improvement of our roads and bridges,” Rath said.

County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz said that while the proposal looks good on paper, it is nothing more than an election-year fiscal gimmick.

“If you divert the revenue from the general fund you have to cut elsewhere, such as libraries, parks and public safety, or raise property taxes to cover the shortfall,” he said.

The county’s six auto bureaus and five mobile units are among the few revenue-generating entities in county government. Those revenues come principally from fees and taxes collected on motor vehicle registrations and driver’s license renewals.

“Historically, the way things work is that the additional revenue, excess revenue that we make here, is basically just commingled into the general fund of the county,” Jacobs said. “The concept here is to halt that practice so that excess revenue would now go to a dedicated road fund to be allocated solely for the upkeep service and repair of road and bridges in Erie County.”

He added, “When people come here, they pay fees, and people expect fees to go to what they’re paying for. We believe that if we dedicate this, it’s much more in line with what a fee should be. If you’re paying to renew your registration and license ... the additional revenue should go to the roads that you’re driving your car on.”

Since Poloncarz very likely could veto the measure if it is passed by the Legislature, it would take a two-thirds vote to put it on the ballot as a referendum in the November general election. If the law is approved by voters, Jacobs estimated that between $3 million to $4 million in additional funds would be generated annually for road and bridge maintenance.

“I project for the 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 budgets, it would approximately be about $15 and $20 million,” Jacobs said.

“This is not a static number, because as many have heard from me over and over again, I’m encouraging our local motorists to renew their registration locally. If people patronize our auto bureaus more, or mail their registration in to us, as opposed to mailing it to New York State, that money will stay here,” he added.

The 2015 county budget includes $27.1 million infrastructure improvements on roads and bridges,$2 million more than was budgeted in 2014, before the Legislature voted to increase funding by $5 million drawn from surplus funds.

Both Jacobs and Rath disagreed with Poloncarz’s criticism of the measure.