Posted tagged ‘Erie County Legislature’

Do We Really Need County Government?

March 27, 2012

As I stated in an earlier post, I recently attended a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Buffalo Niagara titled “Who Needs County Government and Why?”. The four featured speakers discussed the history of county government in New York State and the services delivered to county residents.

90% of Erie County’s $1.2 billion budget is mandated by the state and federal government, services by law that have to be provided. I understand the importance of these mandated services but I question whether it is necessary to have an entire separate branch of elected government oversee the discretionary expenditure of $120 million.

If you view the minutes of the Erie County Legislature there is not a whole lot going on. There is very little to do regarding the budget as 90% of it is mandated, there are very few local laws passed and their meeting agenda consists of largely receiving and filing coorespondence.

Instead of an Erie County Department of Social Services you could have this department be part of the New York State Department of Social Services. The same could be done with the County Health Dept, Sheriff’s Dept. etc. Parks and Public Works could be taken over by the state or by towns to address county parks and roads in their jurisdictions.

Attorney Jim Magavern stated at the League of Women forum that he supported democracy and having local elected officials make decisions. I support democracy as well but the point is that there is not much for county elected officials to do other than pass symbolic resolutions that seek to generate support and name recognition for re-election to office.

Consider these facts below and express your opinion as to whether we really need county government.

Erie County has a County Executive, County Comptroller, County Sheriff, County Clerk and an 11 member legislature to do the following:

  • The county budget totals $1.2 billion of which only $120 million is controlled by the county. 90% of the county budget is mandated by the state and federal government. (Source County Comptroller Mark Poloncarz)
  • In 2011 the legislature changed $5 million of the county executives proposed budget again not even 1% of the total budget. (source
  • While very few laws were passed in 2011, 393 resolutions honoring individuals and community groups were passed! (Source
  • Connecticut, Rhode Island & Massachusetts have eliminated county government by transferring programs and services to the state, cities and towns. (Source, 5/31/11)
  • In March of 2010, Robert Bondi after 19 years of serving as Putnam County Executive questioned whether a county executive and county legislature were needed and whether a less expensive form of government can do the job. (Source 3/11/10)
  • The wealthy county governments of Rockland, Suffolk, Nassau and Westchester are all experiencing serious budget crisis. Erie County government is operating under a state imposed financial control board.

Recommendations For Improving County Government

March 25, 2012

The League of Women Voters of Buffalo Niagara sponsored a forum titled Who Needs County Government and Why? The four speakers were:

Dr. Joseph Stefko, Director of Public Finance, Center for Government Research, Rochester, NY

James Magavern, Esq.

Brenda McDuffie, Executive Director, Buffalo Urban League

Kenneth Vetter, Executive Director, Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority

A history of County government was provided along with an overview of the services provided by County government. The most interesting part of the forum for me is when the speakers were asked what recommendations they had for improving County government.

The recommendations proposed were:

  • County government is the only region wide government and should serve as a facilitator of bringing municipalities together.
  • The State should take over the operation of the Medicaid program which is a huge financial burden on counties.
  • A 4 year financial strategic plan should be developed to guide county operations.
  • Annual reporting of County departmental goals and accomplishments should be reported to the public and reviewed by a citizen board.
  • A professional County Manager with the authority to appoint department heads should be implemented.
  • Merging the City of Buffalo and the County of Erie.
  • Implementing a process of land use planning that requires county review of all land and economic development projects so that the interests of the region as a whole are considered as part of such projects.
  • Consolidation of the multiple municipal economic development agencies into one county wide agency.
  • Implement a process to survey community members as to what services they want and to obtain feedback as to how well county services are being provided.
  • Somehow decrease the political partisanship that exists as doing the right thing is not based on political parties.

What do you think about these recommendations? While I am all for improving County government, I question whether we need County government at all, which I will discuss in my next post.