About That Erie County Clerk Surplus
by Paul Wolf - posted 12:43 am, January 29, 2014
Press releases from politicians often annoy me as they frequently stretch the truth and exaggerate their alleged accomplishments. I like Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs. His willingness to serve on the Buffalo School Board for several years is admirable. My recent visits to the County Clerk’s Office have gone smoothly from a customer service perspective.
Jacobs recently reported in a press release that the Clerk’s Office generated a budget surplus of $1.9 million. It sounds impressive to brag that the Clerk’s Office posted a surplus. In fact some of the comments Jacobs received on Facebook to his surplus news were:
– “Great Job!”
– “Breath of Fresh Air”
– “Thank You”
– “You are an awesome politician”
When you truly understand the role of the Clerk’s Office obtaining a surplus does not merit any of the above comments. The Clerk’s Office collects millions of dollars in fees from citizens primarily through real estate transactions. Every property sold in Erie County has to pay thousands of dollars in taxes and fees to the County Clerk. There is no possible way that the County Clerk cannot end the year with a surplus. David Swarts when he was County Clerk ended the year with a surplus, as did Kathy Hochul when she was County Clerk. The purpose of the Clerk’s Office is to generate fee income for Erie County and having a surplus is nothing new.
Taking credit for the surplus gives people the impression as indicated above that the County Clerk through his management skills is achieving a result that is impressive. The amount of the surplus achieved is dependent primarily on the cyclical ups and downs of the real estate market more than management skills. Fees have also been raised in the Clerk’s Office, which certainly helps to raise revenue. Jacobs has drawn attention to renewing drivers licenses through the Clerk’s Office instead of mailing funds to Albany, as local renewals allow the Clerk’s Office to retain fees for Erie County’s benefit. Encouraging local renewals can help to generate additional revenues for the county.
When the Erie County Executive submitted his proposed county budget, Jacobs complained that the County Executive was over estimating revenues in the Clerk’s Office by $500,000. Yet as Jacob’s now takes credit for the Clerk’s Office finished the year with a surplus of $1.9 million. Arguing over estimated revenues is part of the game that gets played in an effort to create a surplus as high as possible.
Exaggerated press releases comes with the territory of being in elected office. Perhaps I should let such things go without comment. Just offering a different perspective that many people may not agree with.