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The Transparent Mr. Collins

I’ll return to Steve Pigeon’s chronic deficiencies in the realm of campaign finance disclosure filings later today or tomorrow. (Next stop: Pigeon loyalist Gary Parenti’s 2006 campaign for the 158th District Assembly seat.)

But for now I’d like to turn to another fellow who won’t always share numbers with the public, or even with his colleagues: Erie County Executive Chris Collins.

Erie County Executive Chris Collins

On Wednesday, Erie County Comptroller Mark Poloncarz released an analysis of Collins’ first budget. (Here’s the 40-page document if you’d like to read it for yourself. I’ll digest it here later, after listening to Poloncarz present his analysis to the Erie County Legislature this morning.)

Wednesday was October 29. According to the county charter, the comptroller ought to have released an analysis of the essential architecture of the budget—that is, its revenue and major expenditure forecasts—by October 15. That is also the date by which the executive must release his budget for the upcoming financial year. The intention, clearly, is that the legislature be presented with the executive’s budget and the comptroller’s analysis at the same time, so that legislators can weigh both and consider how to proceed.

Here’s the relevant passage in the county charter:

On or before the 1st day of October the county executive shall submit to the comptroller all revenue estimates and expenditure estimates for Medicaid, public assistance, and pension contributions and health care insurance costs for county employees to be used in the proposed budget. The comptroller shall review all revenue estimates and expenditure estimates for Medicaid, public assistance and pension contributions and health care insurance costs for county employees to be used in the proposed tentative budget prepared by the county executive and submit to the Legislature in writing by the 15th of October a report indicating whether or not such estimates are suitable estimates for the upcoming fiscal year. Should the comptroller determine that any such revenue or expenditure estimate is not suitable for the upcoming fiscal year, the Legislature, upon notice from the comptroller may revise any such revenue estimate downward upon a two-thirds majority vote and may revise any such expenditure estimate upward by a majority vote. The Legislature shall not revise any such revenue estimate upward.

So why didn’t Poloncarz provide an analysis by October 15, as the charter requires? My mistake: The comptroller provided analysis of the revenue and expenditure projections they’d been provided; that analysis was released on October 10. But the analysis did not include the county executive’s estimate of next year’s property tax levy.

Tim Callan, Polocarz’s deputy comptroller, told me that the county executive’s budget director, Greg Gach, sent his revenue and expenditure projections to the comptroller’s office late in the afternoon on October 1.  But he would not provide an estimate of property tax revenues. That is the second largest revenue stream in the county budget—the largest, if you leave aside that portion of the sales tax that is distributed to local governments. An analysis of the budget is difficult to complete without that hefty slice of the pie chart.

Collins’ budget director argued the charter does not require that he provide the comptroller with an estimate of property tax revenues. That may be technically so, but Joel Giambra’s budget director last year provided an estimate of property tax revenues by October 1. Why wouldn’t Collins oblige this year?

According to Callan, the county executive asserted that the property tax levy is not a revenue source until the budget has been adopted. (Because who knows? Maybe the legislature will raise taxes, lower taxes, abolish taxes forever.) Still, Giambra’s budget director managed to conjure some numbers by October 1 last year, and surely Collins’ budget director had working figures to offer. Was Collins holding off on disclosing a proposed property tax  increase as long as possible? Was Collins cutting Poloncarz out of the loop because he views him as a political rival? Did he hope to go directly to the legislature with his budget before a third party could cast a critical eye on it?

Poloncarz insisted that the county executive hand over his numbers. The county executive refused. So Poloncarz was not able to review the budget until the complete document was released, at the late last minute, on October 15. Two weeks later Poloncarz released his office’s  analysis—but not before revealing that Collins had neglected, among other things, to reckon a $16 million debt to ECMC in his budget.

More on this soon.


  • Timothy Callan

    Geoff,

    One point of clarification: our office did, in fact, release our Charter-required revenue/expenditure estimate report to the Legislature by October 15, 2008. (We released it on October 10th). That report was unable to analyze the County real property tax levy due to the administration’s decision not to provide that estimate.

    While not required to do so by the County Charter, Comptroller Poloncarz annually issues a comprehensive review of the proposed budget. We do do to alert the County Legislature and the public of our concerns/issues, etc on the proposed budget. Comptroller Poloncarz believes in transparency and accountability and feels this report is an important part of his responsibilities as the County’s independent fiscal watchdog.

    Thanks,

    Tim Callan
    Associate Deputy Comptroller
    Office of the Erie County Comptroller

  • geoff….i hope that when you do the parenti story you get a source somewhat more reliable than disgruntled ex-niagara falls reporter employee david staba, who most recently threatened the paper with a lawsuit based on some delusional “promise” our soon to be criminally charged former publisher made to him on a drunken afternoon over at cocktail bob’s on cudaback street here.

    have you asked david about the two drunk driving arrests he had here in the falls while he was with the reporter?

  • if you need the staba mugshots, geoff, i’ve got them here so give me a call!

  • James

    Chris Collins is a hollow, narrow minded patronizing nitwit like them all. His only stand-out characteristic: He’s arrogant and nasty. Let’s see how much he’s racking up at local fine eateries on the tax payer tab with his drinking cronies. Creating new positions, what a fucktard.

  • just to clarify, i only have the mugshots for david’s two niagara falls drunk driving arrests. i gon’t have them for his earlier, third drunk driving arrest, which i guess happened while he was working at the niagara gazette.

  • Peter A Reese

    Please note that the quoted new wording of Section 2606 of the Charter was an overt move to take the previous complete control of revenue and cost estimates away from the County Exec and empower the Legislature, should the Comptroller determine that the Exec’s estimates are bad. This change was not an accident. It was highly publicized in the roll out of the 2006 referendum which was approved by 70% of voters.

    I can understand that Mr. Collins doesn’t like limits on his powers (makes it hard to run government like a business), but he knew what the job entailed when he ran in 2007.

  • Twixt

    Can you imagine if Casey and Co. had been succussful in backing Jimmy Keane?
    Think about it, sooner or later Casey is someday going to end up picking a winner, even if by default.
    He picked Byron Brown.
    And now the City is suffering for it.
    Not because of the Mayor; but because of Casey.

    Poloncarz, who wanted to run for County Executive and still does, along with his Deputy Tim Callan, would have been covering up anything and everything.
    Now, they can wear the white cowboy hats until 5 pm each day.

    Reese is right, “Collins doesn’t like limits on his powers (makes it hard to run government like a business), but he knew what the job entailed when he ran in 2007.”
    But unlike Mr. Poloncarz, when the County Executive Race got a little rough, Collins stayed “in it to win it!”

  • Pomeroy

    Careful Twixt,

    Don’t talk like that to Mark and Timmy or they will take their calculators and go home.

  • James

    Remember Collins was recently overheard, drunk laughing that “there shouldn’t be a middle class, there was never meant to be one”. Nuff said. He’s a blowhard Republican dicklick who is quickly becoming the most despised, disrespected dolt in town. He certainly likes to take his cronies out for drinks at some pricy places, probably the same guys he wants to give $50k raises to and create new idiotic positions for in this new budget scam he trying to defend which makes hi m look even more sophomoric. What ever happened to running services for a city, county, etc like a not-for-profit with a mission statement and intentions for the good of the whole, instead the good of the ciminellis, the Rich’s, the cronies and the fuck parasites sucking the tax doll?

  • geoff kelly 10/31/07

    “I’ll return to Steve Pigeon’s chronic deficiencies in the realm of campaign finance disclosure filings later today or tomorrow.”

    NOT!!!!

    first mr. kelly told us he’d write more about pigeon on thursday. he did not. then he said he’d do it on friday or saturday, and again he did not. for a guy who talks about the journalistic credibility of other writers, he would be well served by doing what he said he was going to do in a public forum such as this.

    as it stands, what he’s doing is conning people.

  • Peter A Reese

    In fairness to Mark Poloncarz, it appears to me that he has thoroughly and completely complied with the new duties and responsibilities which were bestowed upon the Comptroller in the revised Charter. I also like the backbone he has shown in standing up to the Control Board.

  • Pomeroy

    Mark Poloncarz is running (grandstanding) for higher office.
    In fairness; “it beats running scared!”

  • Elin Bettman

    Thank goodness we have a Mark Polancarz who’s independent from CC…can you imagine what happens when we have more of the same of a CC? I can’t imagine how those books would look. But of course, the control board will be our watchful eye as I am not sure the leg knows how to do that…bring back that hard control board. CC is playing those same games Joel did trying to recruit dems to vote with him, why Barbara Miller Williams and sometimes old Tom Mazur are in his back pocket!