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Executive, comptroller at odds over taxpayer money

Posted at 7:53 PM, Nov 01, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-01 19:53:05-04

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz denied any wrongdoing Tuesday after a scathing report was released by the county comptroller.

In the report, Republican Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw accused Poloncarz, a Democrat, of orchestrating a "smoke and mirrors" scheme to avoid New York State's Property Tax Cap Law.

The dense report citing the flipping of words, "taxes" to "fees" in three of the county's largest sewer districts.

Mychajliw says charging home owners for utilities based on property value and not usage is,"deliberately breaking of the law" and the county has exceeded the NYS Property Tax Cap by $24 million dollars, $7 million in the 2016 budget and $17 million in the proposed 2017 budget.

Poloncarz called the comptroller's report "irresponsible, misleading, and false".

"I don't believe that there is any merit to his claim," he said.  "We've got the facts to back it up.  He doesn't have the facts.  He doesn't understand it.  If you're the county comptroller of a community as large as Erie County, you should understand how the sewer bills go out."

The tax cap is a state law that limits how much a municipality or local government can raise property taxes year by year.  Mychajliw said by classifying certain sewage charges as fees rather than taxes, the county is illegally bypassing that law and overcharging taxpayers.

"This lie is an utter betrayal to the public, which by law are protected from rising property taxes. Taxpayers have been robbed of that security and now their expected rebates may be in jeopardy," Mychajliw says. 

Joe Maciejewski has been the Erie County Real Property Tax Director for two decades.  He said the comptroller is misinterpreting the language.  According to Maciejewski, the county "accurately restated" the sewer charges on the property tax bill to reflect a $180 flat fee that is separate from the taxes levied.

"Any property that is in a sewer district is going to pay a tax which is part of the levy, which is part of the calculation of the tax cap," he said.  "It was a reclassification and we believe the comptroller's office is not reading the bill correctly.  Period.  We don't believe there is anything wrong."

Mychajliw delivered his report to the county legislature Tuesday and sent it to different state offices.  He hopes some action will be taken to fix this language.

Poloncarz said Erie County residents should not worry about losing their rebates and doesn't expect any action from the legislature or state.