It's par for this course: the Erie County Legislature doesn’t have the clubs to cut wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars. They would much rather pass resolutions that kill jobs in the fastest growing energy sector, grow the government payroll and put in a halfhearted effort but fail again on road repairs.
In the latest installment of their inability to lead, legislators refused to publicly discuss their opposition to the creation of a new taxing district to fund the Erie County Public Library system. Instead, they punted the thorny issue across Franklin Street. Rather than holding investigative hearings themselves, they asked the Comptroller to audit the Library and let them know what he finds out.
On the new Library tax, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw have finally found some common ground. They both believe strongly the Library doesn’t need special taxing authority. Both are using their powers to fight creating a new government tax on residents, just like a school district.
In his 2011 campaign for County Executive, Poloncarz boldly opposed the library district initative. At the time, sitting County Executive Chris Collins supported it; he didn't enjoy being labeled anti-Library. Since being elected, Poloncarz has used his power to transform the makeup of the Library’s board. As a litmus test for appointment, he has asked potential board candidates to affirm their opposition to a Library tax district. He also asked that they not support any board efforts to advance the concept.
When the legislature requested the Library audit, Comptroller Mychajliw took off the gloves. He conducted a full three year financial review of every penny the Library spent. He then released a scathing review of, what he called, their wasteful and questionable spending.
Some findings weren't unexpected: Like in most government operations, salaries and staff expenses are up and services for the taxpayers were down. But nobody expected to discover just how much taxpayer money is being spent on out-of-town consultants and lawyers to help Library officials create a new tax on county residents.
In a three year period, the Library paid $422,777 to downstate lobbyist Libby Post and New York City law firms. The Comptroller points out that, had these funds been applied to the actual mission of the library, they could have paid for over 35,000 books and 1400-plus additional hours of operation. Instead, as the audit confirms, taxpayers footed the bill on costly dinners, candy bars, in-room movies, and thousands in hotel and travel accommodations.
The Comptroller's audit in itself is interesting. Even more compelling: what PoliticsNY.net found in the Library’s e-mail that we FOILed from the Comptroller’s Office two months ago.
In one email, lobbyist Post wrote to the Library director, “oh, if only we could keep the press and the bloggers out of the room.” They couldn't.
After the July 4th weekend, PoliticsNY.net will share the Library administration’s involvement in the last county executive’s race, their attempts to influence legislative re-districting, and their general disdain for the politicians who fund them.
Enjoy the fireworks.