The commission was established by local law and has been a formal body since 2012. Its purpose is to advise the Erie County Legislature in the oversight of the county’s budget, monitor county finances, ensure long-term fiscal stability, prevent concealment of county deficits and help provide the legislature with enough time and information to respond to budgetary problems according to the Erie County Charter mandate. This all-volunteer, 11-member commission is comprised of a cross-section of various disciplines, including attorneys, bankers, labor, government and a CPA. The meetings are open to the public, held in “Old County Hall” in downtown Buffalo and abide by New York state public meeting requirements.
Joseph Winter, CFE, CPA, assistant professor of accounting at NU, has been the chairman of the commission the past three years and challenged students enrolled in his auditing classes to attend the most recent meeting.
During the meeting, the 20 students in attendance got a chance to see firsthand how a board operates, view the county’s budget-monitoring report through August 2016 and understand accountability pertaining to material budget variances. The 2016 operating budget of the county approximates $1.444 billion and the students had a chance to learn about mandated services; the interplay of other county businesses such as Erie Community College and Erie County Medical Center; grant accounting; federal and state aid; and formulas for sales tax sharing. Furthermore, they also had the chance to view the proposed 2017 county budget, approximating $1.454 billion, which the legislature and commission will review, thereby impacting and setting property tax rates for Erie County.
One of the biggest takeaways is textbook, lecture and homework assignments from approximately six undergraduate accounting courses taken by the NU accounting students sprung to real-life application through transparent financial reporting, with some of the overall outcomes touching Erie County employees, residents, property owners and recipients of services.