State of the County Address
March 10, 2016
Remarks as prepared for delivery-
Good afternoon and thanks Reverend Pointer for that gracious introduction and for your blessing on this meeting. We have worked together in the past, and I thank you for your continued commitment to making our community a better place. As some of our guests this afternoon know, you are also the Chair of the Erie County Poverty Committee, which is already doing good work locally and which we will touch on a bit later, but thank you for all that you do.
Thanks also to the many members of the Erie County community who are joining us here this afternoon:
Our federal, state, and county leaders along with our leaders at the City, Town and Village levels; thanks for all that you do to lead here in Erie County;
Thanks to Captain Tania Bringhurst for leading us in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Thanks to Board of Trustees Chair Steve McCarville, Executive Director Melissa Brown, and the staff here at the Buffalo History Museum for being our hosts this afternoon. This room was recently redone and looks as grand as ever, certainly befitting of the rich history this building contains. In 2016 the people of the Erie County will be providing more than four hundred thousand dollars to the Museum to ensure it can continue its mission of educating our citizens on our region’s tremendous history and we are thrilled to be here today.
Finally, thank you to everyone in attendance today and welcome everyone at home watching us on Time Warner cable news or streaming online at WNYMedia.net
It is fitting that we gather here at the Buffalo History Museum, a place where past and present are closely intertwined and where the rise, decline, and rebirth of our great county are all in evidence. Look around these halls and you’ll see ample evidence of the strong historical fabric of Erie County.
For almost 200 years, since its creation in 1821, Erie County has been a place of energy, enthusiasm, and opportunity. Drawn by the promise of the Erie Canal, Lake Erie, the Niagara River and the raw power of Niagara Falls, our forefathers brought with them a spirit of optimism, an uncompromising work ethic, and a desire to build a strong community. Their works are still with us today, and their impact on our community is easily visible.
As a community, we are all sons and daughters of the people that came before us. Erie County’s identity has been, and will continue to be, forged by its people. Just as we are products of generations past, so will we help to shape future generations and we must not miss the opportunity to do it right.
We join together to create an Erie County that extends equal opportunity to all and strives for fairness in where we work, where we live, what we earn, and what we do.
We work towards equality and fairness that extends across racial, ethnic, and status lines and into the cores of our communities, thereby affecting every individual in Erie County.
The economic prosperity returning to Western New York presents an opportunity to grow into a stronger, more cohesive and well-planned community; a community that counts its populace, ALL of its populace, as resources and assets.
As our past leaders knew, our people are what set us apart and make us strong.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to say we are succeeding in carrying forth the vision and commitment of our predecessors. We are not only keeping the dream of a vibrant Erie County alive, we are working very hard to expand the dream and the opportunity presented to even more people than we could have imagined just five years ago.
For example, we are building a stronger economy that works for all. In just the last year we opened the North Youngmann Commerce Center Park in Tonawanda which is now bursting at its seams with new buildings and new manufacturing jobs.
Additionally, much to the chagrin of the old boys network in town, we instituted policies in Erie County and at the ECIDA that mandate pay equity for female employees because there is no reason why a women should be paid less than a man for the same work. I thank the members of the Commission on the Status of Women, some who have joined us today, for helping us achieve these policies.
We also created tax scofflaw and clawback policies at ECIDA to protect taxpayers’ money; internally we created a fast-track for MWBE certifications so that more women and minorities can be a part of our economic resurgence; and worked with our partners in state and local government to support projects which have created new net economic wealth for our community in the form of thousands of new private sector jobs.
The proof of our success is in the reports issued by the New York State Department of Labor: the unemployment rate is the lowest in more than nine years; and we are putting in place the pieces necessary for our workforce to succeed in the high-tech and green jobs that will be coming online at Solar City and the Medical Campus.
Another example of our success in building on the past is how we are protecting Public Health: Through the creation of the anti-opioid task force, Erie County is leading the way in developing a community-wide response to the scourge of opioid addiction. Our Department of Health has been at the forefront in educating law enforcement and emergency responders, as well as private citizens, in the use of life saving Narcan and has been on the frontlines of the epidemic in other ways I will talk more about later.
We also protected the public’s health by passing a local law regulating e-cigarettes, thereby expanding on the work of our predecessors who passed the County’s Clean Air Act two decades ago.
We expanded mental health services in schools through partnership with Say Yes and others; maintained an active and robust rodent control program that is having positive results in communities across the county; continued a very popular rabies clinic program that has been attended by thousands of appreciative pets (and owners); and, along with partners, created the innovative Erie County Health Mall to improve local health outcomes.
We are protecting our environment. We passed the first and most stringent microbead law in New York State, a law that was emulated by other counties and eventually pressured the federal government to act, which it did when it passed a nationwide ban earlier this year.
I thank Legislature Chairman John Mills and Legislator Pat Burke for co-sponsoring the microbeads legislation and the entire Legislature for its commitment to keeping our water supply clean, not only as it pertains to microbeads but by joining my administration in investing millions of dollars in the Rush Creek Interceptor Clean Water Project to further that goal.
We also created the WNY Sustainable Business Roundtable to help our local business community reduce their carbon footprint and improve their bottomline.
We expanded our household hazardous waste and unused pharmaceutical collection events, and instituted green policies at county buildings that generate savings while wisely using resources.
In addition to our environment, we are also protecting our infrastructure. Here in Erie County, my administration has invested nearly $100 million over the past four years in road and bridge projects to provide the best possible infrastructure for county residents.
However, our local investment should be augmented by a greater NYS commitment as well. That is why we will work with our WNY delegation to secure funding for WNY roads that is equitable to the amount being invested in New York City and Long Island. Erie County has 1,200 center lane miles of road, more than the states of Hawaii, Rhode Island, or Delaware, and we should receive infrastructure funding that is commensurate with that road inventory.
We are protecting and lifting people countywide. While we have many responsibilities in government, none is greater than ensuring the health and welfare of our citizens.
As we know, the diversity that makes our county great also places great pressure on our community as a whole. Erie County is the sum of all its parts, and even during this time of economic renaissance, some of its parts are struggling to make ends meet.
In his second inaugural address President Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said, “[t]he test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
What was said in the 1937 still applies today. We as a community cannot ignore the reality of poverty amongst us.
As I have said before, our community can only be as great as it can be when all the members of the community are strong. Now is the time to ensure that all boats rise with the tide, not just the select few.
That is why as a county, as a community, under my administration we will continue to focus on issues related to lifting people out of poverty. The progress we have made these past few years shows we can make a difference.
In less than a year we have implemented many of the action items in our health and human services plan, “Initiatives for a Strong Community,” as varied as bringing fresh foods and vegetables to inner city neighborhoods labeled “food deserts,” to completing a chronic neglect study and incorporating its findings into our child welfare response programs, to increasing participation in the SNAP program to reduce hunger.
In fact, 11 of the 49 initiatives have been completed, with another 36 in progress. One such initiative which I know will bear fruit has been the establishment of the Poverty Committee, chaired by Rev. Pointer, to provide a voice for the needs of our most impoverished residents, wherever they may reside, to be heard and acted on by policy makers.
As I charged them on day one, I do not expect the committee to white wash the issues we face or the needs of many. Instead, I want them to tell us where we are failing, where we can do more, where we can do it better, and then help us tailor a response to the issues we face.
I am happy to say the Poverty Committee is already making progress, though I know as time passes we will see even more advancement countywide from the members’ advice.
I know no one initiative can address poverty. That is why our response to issues of poverty must be as diverse as our population.
As such, we must continue to embrace different cultures and the new Americans who now call Erie County home. Recent immigrants have not only increased our population, but have enriched our lives with new businesses and a sense that the promise of the American dream still rings true.
To help our new neighbors achieve their full promise, we created the New Americans Advisory Committee to more fully integrate our immigrant population into Erie County life; thereby strengthening the fabric of the communities where they reside. These meetings have already provided a benefit as we are working with community leaders to address the true needs of our immigrant population, not what we think they might need.
Elsewhere, we are reaching more citizens in need through our expansion of social services’ outreach to libraries around the county, everywhere from Grand Island to South Buffalo to Sardinia and all other points countywide, because we know poverty is not just limited to the inner city – it is everywhere.
We are promoting self-sufficiency for our seniors through replacing on average five vans a year for the Going Places van fleet, as well as planning with AARP to make Erie County a more “senior friendly” place to live.
We are doing all of these things and more to help all of our citizens reach their true potential, which is in an investment in our county’s future.
Our investment in our community also includes providing modern public safety programs. With the introduction of text to 911, we brought the 911 system into the 21st Century and provided a life-saving service countywide. We also changed our 911 translation service provider to better meet the needs of our growing immigrant community because when an emergency is occurring, every second counts and our constituents deserve a fast response regardless of what language they speak.
In addition, our last Erie County budget provided funding for two new sheriff’s deputies whose primary task will be combatting narcotics, and I also provided funding to keep the Domestic Violence unit in the District Attorney’s office functioning after federal funding for the program was lost.
We are making government work for all: we have on-time county budgets and ended each year of my administration in the black; our county bond rating is the highest it’s been since before I was Comptroller; and we worked with municipalities to create a countywide efficiency plan that not only provides better services to all county residents but resulted in a tax rebate check being sent to area homeowners.
At the core of good government is the mandate to protect its citizens.
The safety, well-being and best interests of all county residents must be at the heart of all that we do and should be the reason for all of our actions, whether we are working to resolve community issues, coming together as a community to confront a weather event, or responding to a different crisis.
Throughout our history, men and women in law enforcement, emergency services, and other public service fields have fearlessly sacrificed their own interests to preserve those of another, and have sometimes paid the ultimate price.
Last July 30, we witnessed firsthand acts of selfless heroism, carried out by individuals without thinking of their own safety but rather that of others, including a child directly in harm’s way.
Those men are Evans Police Department Lieutenant Bradley DiMartino, Officer Jeffrey DeVinney, and officer Gregory Szarowicz, along with Highland Hose Volunteer Fire lieutenant Phil Schott. Their efforts on that tragic, windy night saved the life of a young girl and put a sharp focus on what it means to serve your community.
That evening, an emergency call came in about swimmers in distress at Wendt Beach, struggling in 5-6 foot waves and battling a ferocious undertow. Waves were so heavy that evening they capsized a swift water rescue boat from the Lake Erie Beach Volunteer Fire Company. However, the unrelenting weather did not stop rescue efforts from the shore.
At the scene, Lieutenant DiMartino spotted a head in the water about 100 yards from shore; an 11-year old girl struggling for her life. Without hesitating he stripped off his uniform and gunbelt, and immediately made a beeline through the turbulent water to the swimmer.
As he got closer Lieutenant DiMartino himself was being pounded by powerful waves. He drew on inner reserves to finally reach the terrified girl, who clung to him for dear life. Battling his way back to shore, Officer DiVinney reached them and secured the girl, while Lieutenant DiMartino was helped back to the shore by Officer Szarowicz and Lieutenant Schott. Sadly, the girl’s mother, Mary Creighton, a registered nurse and county employee, perished that evening after attempting to save the girl herself. Thankfully, these men were there to prevent further tragedy.
I ask we observe a moment of silence in memory of Mary Creighton.
Thank you. I would like to thank Lieutenants Di Martino and Schott, along with officers DiVinney and Szarowicz, for their selfless dedication to duty that evening and for their continued service to our community. They put their lives on the line to save a stranger, and they are joining us here this afternoon. Please stand so we may all recognize you. Thank you.
Erie County is truly blessed with people that do the right thing without hesitating and without thinking of themselves; it’s what makes our region such a good place to live. We are truly the “County of Good Neighbors.”
It is that spirit of togetherness that is needed to bring Erie County to the next level, that sense that we are all in this together and that we must succeed, or fail, as a community. Today is the day to act and bring positive change to Erie County.
We are making progress as a community and as a region, but we must continue to work to ensure that the same opportunities are available to all. It is up to us to build on that progress, to do more with what we’ve been given, and to use this opportunity to strengthen individuals, families, and our community as a whole.
A better Erie County is within our grasp if we have the courage and perseverance to work for it, just like Lieutenants Di Martino and Schott, and officers DiVinney and Szarowicz did on that fateful day last year.
To paraphrase President Teddy Roosevelt, who took the oath of office not too far from this very spot, “[t]his county will not be a good place for any of us to live until we make it a good place for all of us to live.”
As I’ve said before, our best days are still ahead. The promise of a better Erie County that is stronger, more diverse, more inclusive and more resilient is still there, beckoning us as it did the generations before us. Right now we are being rediscovered on the national and international stage as a region regaining its former glory, but we know we are more than that.
It’s time to take the next step.
It’s time for us to seize this opportunity to lead and to show the world what we can do.
It is time for Erie County to lead once again on protecting our environment.
We are entrusted with protecting our precious natural resources for future generations, and our actions today must lead to a cleaner, greener Erie County for our children and grandchildren. We led the way on microbeads and my administration is ready to do the same on other pollutants.
One such way we can make a difference is by diminishing the proliferation of the millions of plastic bags that are distributed each year by retail establishments which inevitably pollute our environment. These ubiquitous bags hold everything from groceries to take out food and can be found on any given day blowing through our streets, littering our landscapes, and ultimately ending up in our waterways. These bags are generally not biodegradable and take a toll on our natural legacy.
To stand by and do nothing while pollution quietly overtakes our community is not an alternative, and is not the course our forefathers would take, nor is it the course our children and grandchildren would approve of. I believe we must join other communities across our state and country that have stood up to Washington lobbyists and said we will protect our environment.
As such, today I join our County’s Environmental Management Council, some of whom have joined us today, and call for the passage of a local law which will ban all lightweight, disposable plastic bags in our county. Before such a law could take effect we must perform an environmental impact assessment on such an action, and therefore today I am ordering the Department of Environment and Planning to perform such an assessment, and call on the legislature to approve funding for such a review.
We only have one planet. We must all do our part in ensuring its future.
As a sign of our intent and an encouragement to all to implement more environmentally-healthy measures, as you leave here today we are distributing 300 reusable bags to diminish the need for plastic. I’m putting mine right in my car so the next time I go shopping I will use it and I hope you will do the same. Working together we can and will protect our environment.
Erie County also is ready to lead on Public Health and other issues facing our families.
For example, the time has come to prohibit the sale of tobacco products and e-cigarettes in stores with pharmacies. We have known for decades the harm tobacco products cause, and as we discussed this past year, we are also learning about the danger electronic cigarettes pose. A pharmacy is a place to go for products that help alleviate illnesses; it should not be the place to purchase products that are known to cause cancer and other deadly diseases. By prohibiting the sale of tobacco products and other related devices at supermarkets and other stores with pharmacies we are promoting better health and decreasing the burden on public health.
Recently I was joined by Health Commissioner Burstein, Legislator Peter Savage and public health advocates to announce a proposed local law to ban the sale of these products at grocery stores and pharmacies, a move that has already been implemented successfully locally at national retailers like Wegmans, Target and CVS.
Cigarettes and other tobacco products, as well as e-cigs and vapor devices, will still be available but will no longer be sold in locations that carry products beneficial to health. It is a policy that makes good sense and will result in a cleaner, healthier county, and is supported by the American Pharmacists Association and the American Medical Association. I would like to thank Legislator Savage for sponsoring this legislation and I call on the Legislature to pass such a ban this year.
Another way in which Erie County is protecting the public’s health is in addressing the terrible opioid addiction epidemic facing our community. As we have all learned recently, opioids are powerful drugs that are highly addictive and run the gamut from pain pills such as hydrocodone, oxycotin, vicodin, and lortab to street drugs such as heroin and fentanyl.
As our Public Health Department knows, these drugs are non-discriminatory: they affect poor inner city youth, blue collar rural families as well as wealthy professional suburbanites. Every community in our county has been touched by the scourge of this addiction.
These drugs kill. People of all ages and races are dying from these drugs, whether they die with a needle in their arm or a pill bottle at their side. In fact, in one ten day period earlier this year, 23 individuals died from opioid overdoses ranging in age from 20 to 61.
That is just one reason why the Erie County Health Department has led the effort to address this problem. From holding educational seminars for doctors on proper opioid prescribing practices to training first responders and community members in the administration of Narcan, the members of our health department are working very hard to save lives and prevent others from becoming addicted to these drugs.
But there is more that needs to be done. That is why I declared the opioid epidemic a public health crisis and created the Opioid Addiction Task Force to help our Departments of Health and Mental Health coordinate a community-wide response to this crisis.
The Task force has been charged with many goals, such as helping Erie County develop new, community-based paradigms for treatment to assisting families of those addicted cope with the addiction. One need that came to light even before the first meeting of the task force was for a central screening, information and referral line. This service would provide law enforcement, ER doctors, and families with a central hub to link addicts with treatment. Working with our long time partners at Crisis Services, the Department of Mental Health has developed a plan to provide Erie County with this critical service.
We also recognize the need for dedicated staff to support the Department’s Health’s rapidly expanding role as a lead agency in the fight against opioid addictions. These staff will monitor the use and distribution of narcan, manage an ever growing network of prescription drug drop-off kiosks, and coordinate the activities and projects of the opioid epidemic task force. This is a long-term fight, and worthy allocation of resources.
As such, I will be sending over this week a proposal to address these critical needs and call on the Legislature to pass this resolution as soon as possible. Doing so will make a difference. We cannot say a problem exists and we need to address it; then reject funding for the programs that can help reduce this problem. So I ask my partners in government to approve this funding so we can help make a difference in people’s lives, thereby saving some in the process.
Additionally, I am proud to say our efforts in Erie County have been recognized nationally as I was just appointed to a 20 person national commission, 10 county leaders and 10 mayors from across the country, to formulate a nationwide solution to this epidemic. Much like our county Task Force, the national commission will examine all the best efforts being made across our country and present our findings and recommendations to the president and Congress by the end of this year.
It is truly an honor to serve and I look forward to learning about what other communities across our nation are doing to end this epidemic, and then taking these ideas back here to our county.
The problem of opioid addiction reaches beyond municipal, county, and state borders, across genders and ages, and across socio-economic status lines as well. We are all in this together, we must work together to address the issue, and my administration will continue to take the lead until such time as we have ended this epidemic.
Opioid addiction threatens families, but it is not the only health threat that currently faces our community. That is why my administration has been and will continue to aggressively combat the danger that lead poisoning poses to our children.
While the children of Flint, Michigan face the danger of lead in their water, it is old lead paint on the walls of area homes that puts our children at risk. Unfortunately our area has a very old housing stock, with many inner city, suburban, and rural homes containing lead paint on their walls from the pre-1978 era.
Lead poisoning is an insidious disease, and one that parents are not aware they may be exposing their child to danger. Young children who ingest lead, either through chewing on paint chips containing lead or breathing in air containing lead paint dust particles, can suffer serious, permanent neurological damage. It is not a risk to be ignored, and the county is not ignoring this danger.
The Departments of Health and Environment and Planning each have programs to address the dangers of lead exposure to children. Some of these programs help monitor children who have been exposed to lead poisoning, while most address the root cause and attempt to eliminate the risk of lead paint exposure in the home.
In fact, since 2008 and through the end of 2015, the Department of Health has inspected 12,733 homes, and overseen the remediation of nearly 1,000 homes per year in the City of Buffalo, while the Department of Environment and Planning has overseen the remediation of another 500 other homes in municipalities as varied as Angola, Colden, Tonawanda, West Seneca and my hometown of Lackawanna.
However, we can do more. That is why I am committing $3.75 million of fund balance over the next 5 years, $750,000 per year starting in 2016, to add more inspectors, case management professionals, and purchase other equipment necessary to address the problem and I call on the Legislature to unanimously approve this additional funding. If approved, we can substantially increase the number of homes we inspect each year across the entire county, thereby ensuring these homes are truly a “Home Sweet Home” for our community’s children and not a silent threat slowly poisoning them.
Yet, we cannot alleviate this problem on our own. We need assistance from all levels of government – local, state, and federal – as well as our partners in the private and not-for-profit sector, like the Community Foundation’s “Green and Healthy Homes Initiative” to rid the area of this problem.
I thank Congressman Brian Higgins for his great leadership on this issue by securing a number of federal grants to address lead poisoning, though I ask him and the rest of our Congressional and Senate delegation to do all they can to provide more federal funding to help us in our task. I also thank Mayor Brown and the members of the common council for the actions they have recently taken to reduce lead exposure in Buffalo.
Not matter what others do, Erie County will do its part to protect our children from the hidden risk that is lead poisoning and I call on the legislature to approve this new funding by the end of this month so we may strengthen our efforts to eliminate lead from our area’s homes.
When it comes to families there is still more we can do to protect at-risk children, that’s why I am renewing my call to modernize New York State’s Child Protective Services’ laws. In 2014, my administration proposed and authored 19 pieces of legislation designed to modernize state child protective services law, which was written more than 40 years ago and has not changed much since. Some of these proposals have been introduced as legislation in Albany while others still need support; yet none of them have been passed.
In order to better protect children, accommodations must be made for modern technology, changing family structures and societal pressures, and the need for better information. It is outrageous that the laws of 1973 are still being applied to cases in 2016, and it needs to change. My administration will continue our push for passage of this legislation and enlist the support of our WNY delegation to make it happen, and I hope you will all join us in this effort.
Another way in which Erie County can be a leader statewide is by strengthening our current ethics laws and setting the standard for others to follow.
That is why I have proposed a comprehensive ethics reform package which will take the already strong county ethics laws passed in the 1980s and 1990s and strengthen them for the issues faced by Erie County government in 2016.
As elected officials, we must hold ourselves to the highest standards of ethical behavior. We must never betray the trust placed in us by our constituents, the people of Erie County, and must work scrupulously to maintain fair and ethical government.
As such, I am proposing a new ethics package that would provide more transparency so that our residents know their representatives are playing by the rules. My proposal would bar any elected official, county officer and employee from working for any other municipality in our county, thereby eliminating the inherent conflict that exists in such situation, as well as requiring any elected official to immediately notify the County Attorney’s Office and the Board of Ethics upon being hired as an employee or consultant by any third party to ensure no conflict does exist.
Additionally, my proposal requires any elected official to identify to the County Attorney’s Office and the Board of Ethics the names of any clients they or their firm have that have business before the county. My proposal does not seek the identification of all clients, but only those who do business with Erie County. This way we will know whether our elected officials, and the firms that employ them, are working for us or for their clients.
My proposal also more clearly defines what is and what is not an illegal gift, and fixes all of the problems that were created last year when the law was incorrectly amended over my veto by the Legislature.
Most importantly, my proposal resolves the question whether criminal charges can be placed against those who violate the law. I am an attorney, I think the current law is fairly clear: if you violate the law regarding the acceptance of gifts you may be prosecuted for a class A misdemeanor. Unfortunately, some disagree with my opinion.
The proposal I present to the Legislature will permanently resolve the issue, and I am glad to say Legislature Minority Leader Tom Loughran has agreed to sponsor the legislation.
Our current county ethics law is actually a good law, but it can be strengthened. This is an opportunity to put better, stronger rules into place that don’t deter good people from serving in government but do provide clear guidelines and practices for elected officials to follow and the public to observe.
Now when it comes to our employees, county tax dollars should go to employ county residents. However, that is not necessarily the case because you do not have to live in Erie County to work for Erie County. This is wrong. As such, we will institute a residency requirement for all new Erie County employees.
In 2013, the Legislature passed a residency law but it had a number of issues with it, and as a result, I vetoed it. The proposal I place before the Legislature today resolves those issues and I hope they will join me in ensuring our employees are also our constituents. By instituting a residency requirement for all new Erie County employees we are reinvesting in our community and in our workforce. I call on the Legislature to pass such a law by the end of the year.
Erie County will also lead in promoting our local workforce. We will establish a first-source labor policy in Erie County to help more local workers benefit from local projects. A first source policy would compel businesses contracting with Erie County to employ a certain percentage of our county workforce with special consideration given to disadvantaged workers, helping to strengthen our community by building a more diverse and racially inclusive workforce. To be applied initially to construction jobs, this policy can eventually be expanded to include more professions. In this way, companies that profit from contracts with the county will use local workers on their projects, building new wealth locally and offering new opportunities to more county residents.
When we talk about our improving our workforce one of our best tools to do so is by improving our community college. That is why I have taken steps to assist ECC do what it does best: educate and train our diverse workforce for the jobs of tomorrow.
President Quinn and I have had many thoughtful conversations on the future of the institution, and I know we both have the best interests in the college in mind. That is why we worked together last year to resolve the long-outstanding labor contracts for the Faculty Federation and Administrators Association, I agreed to provide more operating assistance to the college these past two years, and he agreed with me that changes needed to be made elsewhere to better serve the needs of the college.
While President Quinn understands the symbiotic nature of the college and the county, I do not think every member of the ECC community does. That is why I reiterate my call for the County and College to create a 10 person “Operations and Strategic Planning Committee” to assist ECC and the County to better address the needs of the college and the greater community. This volunteer committee would be equally staffed by County and ECC designees, five members each. It would jointly examine issues related to the current operating and future direction of the college, especially as it pertains to long-term campus infrastructure needs, as well as examining operational issues detrimental to the county, such as community college chargebacks, location of classes to better address student needs, transportation, and other factors.
This committee would not supplant the Board of Trustees of their duty to oversee the operations of the college, but will assist the county and college better anticipate the needs of the institution as well as our ever changing workforce. I am ready to name my designees; I hope the college is as well. Together we will create a better, stronger community college.
Erie County will also lead in building a more connected county and region.
It is time we finally form an effective Erie County Planning Board.
A comprehensive community vision was thoughtfully developed through the two-year One Region Forward Initiative that concluded in 2015. After countless town hall meetings throughout the region, engaging thousands of individuals, hundreds of elected leaders, and dozens of municipalities, One Region Forward established a clear vision for our region’s future. It’s a future including healthy communities, diverse transportation options, quality housing, the preservation of farmland, clean air and water, and above all else, tax stabilization and affordability. It is time to support the implementation of this vision with an Erie County planning board.
Such a Board will assist in building an Erie County that is better prepared to address the changing needs of our overall community. It will pool resources and perspectives into a regionwide-scope to improve our county now and into the future. Many communities do not have the resources on their own to align their planning with REDC and One Region Forward initiatives, while a countywide Planning Board would provide the structure necessary for communities to participate.
Now is the perfect time to address this issue because Erie County’s Charter already provides for a regionwide planning board that includes representatives from Niagara County, but the board it references no longer exists. The Charter Revision Commission is meeting now and I will be submitting to them provisions to revise the county’s charter so we, as a community, take a countywide approach to development, and as a result, reduce sprawl, protect our farmlands, and save us from spending millions of dollars in unnecessary infrastructure.
In conjunction with amending the charter’s current planning board provisions, I call on the Legislature to join me in passing a Fair Housing Policy for Erie County.
The American dream of home ownership is at the foundation of our community and represents the aspirations of millions of individuals and families, yet even in 2016 people seeking housing find themselves victims of discrimination despite the provisions of the federal Fair Housing Act.
As we have seen in other areas, such as pay equity, discrimination will proliferate if given the opportunity to do so, if no one thinks it needs to be addressed, or “someone else is working on that.”
Housing discrimination is quietly taking place in Erie County, erecting illegal barriers to people’s dreams, segregating our community, and hindering our community from reaching its full and inclusive potential. Government exists to serve its people, to protect their rights, and to ensure those rights are fully attainable by all.
As such, in April, which is Fair Housing Month, I will be releasing a proposed law which builds on the foundation provided by federal and state housing laws and strengthens them so it is not just a foundation, but truly a home for all. Once again, I ask our Legislature to join me in this effort by passing such law by the end of the year.
Ladies and gentlemen, the state of Erie County is strong and getting stronger every day. But we can do better.
Now is our opportunity to lead and build the community we have wanted it to be, one that is dynamic, creative, inclusive, and ready to succeed.
But it will take all of us, and we need to get moving now. President Teddy Roosevelt also famously said, “Do what you can where you are with what you’ve got.”
That’s our challenge, as well as our opportunity.
It is an opportunity to make our forefathers, and future generations, proud.
It is an opportunity to create a stronger Erie County that is a better, cleaner place to live; an Erie County that protects children, families, workers, and the environment; an Erie County that is even better than our forefathers envisioned.
I know if we work together we will achieve that vision.
Thank you for joining me here this afternoon. God bless you, and God bless Erie County.