March, 15, 2013
Last week, I delivered my first State of the County address at Albright Knox, symbolic of the abundance of arts and cultural assets we boast as a community.
I’ve worked to change the tone of county government from a view that it is automatically the problem to one where it can be part of the solution.
When faced with state and federal mandates, instead of constantly fighting we’ve decided to work more cooperatively with our partners in government. Separate from these, there are the services that the County provides that our community values that I call the “People’s Mandates,” including rodent control, parks improvements, road and bridge construction, libraries, negotiating a new Bills lease and others. I promised to ensure these would be a priority and, over the past year, I have lived up to that promise.
Coming into office, we realized our financial outlook wasn’t quite as ‘rosy’ as we were all led to believe. However, through smart spending, sound financial management and implementing a few good ideas I had as Comptroller, we expect to end 2012 with a $4.7 million surplus.
We still have financial challenges ahead, exacerbated by several legislators who, in their zeal to avoid a small property tax increase, ultimately approved an unbalanced budget and unnecessarily added $25 million in new budget gaps to future years. I echo the control board’s sentiments: County leaders need to work together and compromise in order to meet these challenges.
Also key to moving forward is acknowledging that we can’t put band aids on systemic problems. We are beginning to implement innovative and cost effective ideas like creating one of the State’s first Land Banks to finally deal with our vacant property problem; a new County Medicaid Inspector General to root out provider-level waste, fraud and abuse; and establishing a ‘one-stop shop’ for quality and affordable primary, dental and mental health care needs in a desperately underserved part of our community.
We will also be engaging in meaningful economic development for a region struggling with population loss and inequality, including: targeted, strategic public investments; leveraging our geographic location and natural water-based and agricultural resources; a commitment to smart growth and sustainability and finally addressing our failed IDA and workforce development systems.
We’ve already begun and, as an example, soon the former-Bethlehem Steel Site will no longer be an example of what’s wrong with our community but will become the example of what we can accomplish when we all work together. We are in the process of transforming this brownfield into one of the largest shovel-ready development sites in the Northeast, already attracting a $40 million investment from Welded Tube of Canada to locate its American operations here.
Looking back, I believe the difference between success and failure has been partnership. When we work together, there is nothing we can’t accomplish. I know the direction I wish to head and have outlined an ambitious agenda for Erie County. Today, I ask you to be my partner in getting there.