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Erie County savings account grows by $7.6 million, leaders disagree on who deserves credit

The 2015 Erie County budget ended with $18 million in leftover cash that will ultimately grow the county’s savings account by $7.6 million.

Who takes credit for this bit of good news is a separate matter.

County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz said this week that the increase is a testament to his administratrion’s “prudent stewardship” of taxpayer money. He called the positive balance remarkable because the budget’s largest revenue source – sales tax – fell short by $8.4 million, driven in part by fewer Canadian guests shopping in Erie County and lower fuel costs.

“For the fourth year in a row, we have maintained spending and vacancy controls, and completed cost-saving measures while still allocating funds for important community programs and initiatives,” Poloncarz said in a statement. “Along with other fortuitous but unanticipated revenues and lower than expected expenses in certain programs such as Medicaid, these projections continue to reflect realistic budgeting and our prudent stewardship of County finances.”

But both the Republican comptroller and the Republican-supported legislature majority were quick to say that the Democratic county executive deserves less credit than he’s taking.

Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw called Poloncarz’s announcement a “smoke and mirrors” calculation that will actually add relatively little cash to the county’s cash reserves.

Legislature Majority Leader Joseph Lorigo, meanwhile, called the announcement “disingenuous.”

The $18 million figure has been known since April, when the county executive came forward with a series of year-end budget balancing amendments aimed at reallocating most of that extra money to a wide range of department expenses and special projects, including an opioid crisis response plan, a lead poisoning prevention program and additional road repair projects.

Mychajliw stated that while the county’s “unassigned” fund balance – money that is not already set aside for future spending – is growing by $7.6 million, the overall fund balance will grow by only $335,000.

“That is a fact,” he stated. “This is the total amount in which revenues exceeded expenditures in 2015, in the nearly $1.7 billion budget.”

Both he and Lorigo noted out that Poloncarz originally intended to spend most of the $18 million in leftover funds from the 2015 budget. The Legislature, however, blocked some of the county executive’s immediate spending priorities.

“The only reason he has $7.64 million to boast about is because the Legislature put the brakes on his excessive spending,” Lorigo stated. “We refused to spend every penny he asked us to, and had we approved his proposals we’d be looking at an extremely small surplus, if any.”