By Jason Zona
Niagara Gazette — The primary reason I decided to get involved in county government was to protect the Town of Niagara and Niagara Falls taxpayers from the increasing tax rates that hurt our family budgets and hinder economic development.
Although I am a new legislator, I intend to follow through on this pledge by fighting against a budget that increases your taxes yet again.
A 3.7 percent proposed county property tax increase is unacceptable given that there are non-essential areas to be cut that will reduce the property tax levy the county will attempt to implement. These cuts are what Dennis Virtuoso, Owen Steed, and I will attempt to do next week.
One area that I have been deeply involved with is the county Refuse Disposal District. I currently serve on the Board of Directors of the Refuse Board. I am both pleased and disturbed with the budget put forth to the legislature for approval. I am pleased that we have proposed reducing the amount of funding the refuse district receives through property taxes by nearly 10 percent. That is great news to deliver in an era of ever increasing property taxes. We accomplish this mainly by reducing the workforce in the district through attrition as workers retire. This I wholeheartedly support as a means to reduce taxpayers bills.
What is disturbing to me is the proposed plan to prematurely close a landfill before it has reached its capacity and shut off a valuable source of revenue that helps fund the district. This landfill also helps many small contractors around the county to dispose of their debris at a very reasonable price. Closing C&D Landfill will now add unnecessary costs to many of these small business owners that are already facing difficult economic times.
It has been well publicized that I support the county getting out of the landfill business over the next four years. However, to close a profitable site early is completely irresponsible and not in the best interests of the taxpayers and small business owners of this county.
In the proposed 2013 refuse budget, the county manager recommends eliminating two low-salaried employees by laying them off mid-year at a minimal savings to the district. This is being proposed, despite the lack of action by the Refuse Board on closing the C& D landfill early or eliminating any programs the district operates.
Again, this is irresponsible. The minority caucus will be submitting amendments to the proposed budget to fund these two positions for the remainder of the year. The cost of funding these positions will be covered by eliminating tens of thousands of dollars of proposed increases in wasteful consultants and outside contractor costs in the Refuse District.
The increase in consulting and contracting fees being proposed is irresponsible. We can continue operating this landfill profitably until it reaches capacity and keep workers employed by eliminating these expenses, while still reducing the amount taxpayers contribute to the district by close to $100,000. This is the responsible approach to passing the Refuse budget.
There are many other wasteful areas in the county budget that the minority caucus will propose to eliminate or reduce to avoid any tax increases to taxpayers. While the county manager has no problem eliminating low-level, low-salary positions, we do not see any reduction in the salaries of the high-paying, wasteful, patronage positions proposed.
We see no reduction in large payouts to bi-annual consultants and lobbyists in the emergency management and economic development budgets. I have come to realize that these lobbyists are often paid to do the work our county department heads are more than able to do and should be performing. This is just a small sample of what can be reduced to limit increases in the bill county taxpayers receive. County residents and business owners cannot afford for us to continue business as usual and I am working hard to make sure wasteful spending is eliminated first before asking you to sacrifice one more penny for patronage.
In my first year as a legislator, I have learned that it is possible to responsibly reduce the size of government but mandates imposed by our elected New York State officials are crippling local government and account for the biggest portion of property taxes we pay in Niagara County. That is why it is so important to eliminate any and all waste in the budget that we can control. We have been able to reduce the county workforce though attrition, privatization of certain services, and have began small scale consolidation of services with other local governments. This is only a start.
Tougher times are ahead, but I promise to continue efforts to reduce the amount paid in county property taxes, while making Niagara County a better place to do business and raise a family.
Jason A. Zona, Niagara County Legislature, 5th District.Jason A. Zona, Niagara County Legislature, 5th District