State of the County Address
March 8, 2018
Remarks as prepared for delivery-
Thank you Patrick Kaler for that warm introduction. Visit Buffalo Niagara is a terrific partner in promoting our region nationally and internationally, and I thank you and your staff for the good work you do every day.
Thanks also to Mohan Natarajan, past-president of the India Association of Buffalo for the words of prayer. The Association is actively engaged in improving our community. With their help we installed the first cricket pitch in an Erie County Park (Ellicott Creek), and the Association is also working with our library system to expand the library's collection of Indian works.
We also want to thank the members of the New Americans committee for their help with our Pledge of Allegiance.
The committee began its work in 2016 as an advisory group to facilitate better communications between our immigrant communities and Erie County government, and has helped our community to lead the way for the resettlement of thousands of refugees to WNY. Former U.S. Senator and NBA great Bill Bradley famously said that, "Leadership is unlocking people's potential to become better" and the New Americans Committee has been a strong asset in helping us do that.
Also thanks to Buffalo Museum of Science President & CEO Marisa Wigglesworth and the Museum's Board for hosting us this afternoon.
Erie County is proud to support the vital mission of the BMOS, to maintain and improve this facility and its collections for generations yet to come.
Did you know that on March 8, 1618, 400 years ago today to the day, Johannes Kepler discovered his third law of Planetary Motion? He did, but even if you don't know what that means, and simply put he found that a planet's orbital period and distance are related, very soon you can gaze through the new observatory here at the same stars and planets that Kepler observed 400 years ago.
With $500,000 assistance from Erie County, the iconic rooftop observatory that was closed for years was replaced and a new elevator system installed to welcome stargazers, including those who because of disabilities could never go to the roof before.
As someone who owns his own telescope, that is a ribbon cutting ceremony I am looking forward to attending, especially if it is at night.
Over the past six years we have shown that partnerships not only work to make our county better, but that they are necessary to succeed. Many of our partners are here today, too many to list, and I welcome you and thank you for taking time out of your day to participate in this tradition.
Also, welcome and thank you to all who are watching us live on Spectrum News, or viewing our live feeds at WNYMedia.net or on FaceBook.
It is my honor to come before you today to present my sixth State of the County address, an address that is reflective of the work we've done, the foundations to the future we have laid, and the successes we've attained. It's also cognizant of the road ahead and the path forward for Erie County.
In a myriad of ways, when an issue or problem arises it is incumbent on county government to lead the way and coordinate a response.
Public health threats, weather emergencies, environmental issues, protecting children from physical or mental abuse, creating a more inclusive community: all require county government to be involved and at the forefront in working on solutions.
As I've said many times, government is not a business and should not be run like one. Government exists to do the jobs that the private sector can't or won't do.
Government exists to protect and serve the widow and the orphan, to ensure fairness and equity in our community, to give voice to those at the forgotten fringes of our society.
We derive our power from the people, and we must never forget that we represent people, not taxpayers.
Government must work for those who need our help regardless of whether they are paying taxes at that point in their lives.
As elected officials, we must always use our offices for the betterment of the ENTIRE community, not just our supporters or those who agree with us.
Public office is a public trust.
That public trust, however, is being eroded today. Cynicism about government has reached new heights as dysfunction reigns in Washington, across New York and even here in Erie County.
It seems like every day we see a story about a public official abusing their position for their own benefit, while policies are promoted that ignore the needs of our constituents, and are actually dangerous to our democracy.
We cannot stand idly by while this occurs. It falls to us to speak and to act, without fear and without reservation.
There is nothing wrong with having an honest conversation on the issues. Unfortunately too many elected to office hide when confronted with a controversial topic. That is wrong.
When we see cuts to programs for seniors and the poor, we must speak out. When we see veterans, or people with disabilities, or students or immigrants bear the brunt of misguided federal "policies," we must act. When the federal or state government fails to protect our citizens, we must do so.
We waited a long time for change to come to our region before we realized that we are the change.
While we were the change needed to create this new Buffalo - the new Erie County - we also need to be leaders to protect our community and nation.
Leading means making tough decisions and doing what is best for our constituents, ALL of them.
Leading means taking the reins when there's no one who will do a job that's crying out to be done.
That is what we have done in Erie County, we have led the way when others couldn't or wouldn't do so.
For example, when the opioid crisis reared its ugly head in Erie County, we led the way in January 2016 by forming the Opioid Epidemic Task Force. Our coordinated response brought stakeholders from across the community together to address the public health crisis of our time.
Other communities, like Monroe County, wouldn't even admit there was a problem until this year, and now they are years behind in fighting this scourge on society.
Our early work is paying off in dividends beyond measure: lives saved. While other counties across the nation have seen dramatic increases from overdose deaths in 2017 compared to 2016, in Erie County we actually saw a significant decline: from 301 in 2016 to no more than 268 in 2017.
At one point last year we were averaging a death a day, but not anymore because of the concerted efforts of so many.
We are leading on this issue not just locally but nationally. Through the efforts of the our Central Police Services Forensics lab, critical investigative information was provided to the DEA which directly resulted in the opiate derivatives U47700, Furanyl Fentanyl and Butyryl Fentanyl being added to the list of federally controlled substances.
I thank all who have played a role in the Task Force and the fight to end the Opioid Epidemic. Please stand and take a well-deserved bow for all your hard work.
Erie County led the way in strengthening protections for our senior citizens. At last year's State of the County Address I called for the passage of Ruthie's law to better protect those living in nursing facilities. I thank the Legislature for unanimously passing such law in record time, a law I was proud to sign into effect last June.
The same goes for protecting children. This week I was proud to sign into law the Conversion Therapy Ban Legislation. We must protect children from abuse, whether it is physical or mental, and that's what this law does: protects children from forced therapy to "change" their sexual orientation or gender identification. I commend Legislator Patrick Burke for his tenacious sponsorship of the Conversion Therapy Ban Legislation and all the advocates for the law's passage.
We have a responsibility to ensure the safety of our citizens, especially the most vulnerable, like seniors and children, and that's what Ruthie's Law and the Conversion Therapy Ban do.
In ways much more immediate but that receive less attention, Erie County and its employees are having a direct impact on the lives of our residents. Our senior and social services departments are daily lifelines to thousands of people.
In the course of one regular day recently at our offices at 290 Main Street, one of our social services workers was on the spot and in the moment to prevent a potential suicide. A despondent individual in the 10th floor reception area at 290 Main had opened a window and indicated he was going to jump.
The man had gone so far as to straddle the window ledge before Director Amy Dvorak was able to talk him back into the room and stay with him until help arrived. A tragedy was averted that afternoon. I ask Amy Dvorak to stand so we can say thank you for the lifesaving work you do! Thank you!
Another way in which we led is by developing a community-wide approach to poverty, with the formation of the Poverty Committee. Committee Chair Rev. Kinzer Pointer and other committee members are joining us here this afternoon, and I thank them for the work the Committee is doing in urban, suburban and rural settings to fully engage individuals in poverty or at-risk of being in poverty.
Together we are working on ways to not only reduce poverty but give our youth the skills they need to succeed in today's world and lift themselves out of what is often multi-generational poverty in their family.
Erie County is working with ECMC to lead the future of healthcare in our community. Last year, after a bruising and unnecessary fight, 6 members of the Legislature agreed with me that we should assist ECMC in building a new state of the art emergency department to replace the old, small current one. There is only one Level one trauma center for WNY, ECMC, and we deserve better than a 40 year old facility.
The agreement we entered into ensured ECMC could borrow at the best possible rates for this project, and helped Erie County by providing budgetary certainty for the near future. This was a win-win-win for all: the hospital, the county and the community.
I thank Tom Quatroche, former ECMC chair Sharon Hanson, current chair Jon Dandes, as well as the rest of the board and the members of the legislature who supported this worthy project. This will be part of our legacy to the community, one thousands of future patients will never know you and I were involved in, but very thankful we did when they are brought to ECMC for care.
Erie County is also leading the way in creating a cleaner, greener county through adherence to the Paris Climate Agreement. When I signed my Executive Order last June calling on the Departments of Public Works and Environment and Planning to prepare a plan for the County to implement the United States' target contribution to the Paris Climate Agreement, reducing Erie County's greenhouse gas inventory by twenty-six percent below 2005 levels by 2025, some people laughed. They said it couldn't be done so why try.
They are not laughing anymore when in January I announced that Erie County has already met the goal. While we are meeting the Paris standard, we will not rest on our laurels. I have directed our staff to find other ways to further reduce our greenhouse gas emission and consumption and to assist local governments, businesses and individuals to do the same.
I know we can do better. We will lead by example, especially when others, such as the federal government, won't.
We have proven you can meet the Paris standard. We all have a role to play and we all must act. The future of our planet depends on it.
Whether it is protecting our planet or our citizens, we continue to lead the way. Our Department of Health has led the fight against lead poisoning in Erie County.
By increasing funding for lead inspections and remediation efforts, we are protecting more at-risk children in our community.
We aren't doing it alone, either. I thank Mayor Byron Brown, the Buffalo Common Council, and the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo for the steps all have taken to work with Erie County to protect our littlest constituents from lead poisoning. Together, we are making real progress and soon we will announce a major new joint initiative. Stay tuned!
Erie County has led the way in bringing a common sense, implementable economic plan to fruition and putting the pieces in place for a better county with versions 1.0 and 2.0 of Initiatives for a Smart Economy.
Almost all of the original plan's economic development initiatives have been completed, including the construction of the new STEM building at the north campus of SUNY Erie.
Yes, you heard me right, SUNY Erie, not ECC, because under the leadership of new SUNY Erie President Dr. Dan Hocoy, the school formerly known as ECC is clearly headed in a positive direction; a place where you can truly start there and go anywhere.
I thank all who played a role in making the new STEM building a reality, as well as President Hocoy for joining us here today. Both are signs of the new SUNY Erie and how we are leading our community forward. Thank you.
Unemployment is low in Erie County, at about 5% compared to the 8.9% it was when I took office in January 2012. While this is encouraging, in order to reduce it further we must continue to lead the way on workforce development and ways to connect people seeking jobs with available employment.
One of the ways we are doing this is through our participation in the Employ Buffalo Niagara Coalition and the Career Pathways program at Workforce Buffalo. This program upgrades the skill sets necessary for aspiring workers to succeed by placing these individuals with companies that build their skills "on the job."
Career Pathways supports our efforts to build a more inclusive economy. It allows people to learn a trade that is in demand. Today we are joined by a graduate of the program who's working locally in manufacturing:
Jerome Hearn II became a Career Pathways student in 2016 after receiving guidance from Pastor Walker at Mount Olive Church in Buffalo. He'd had a difficult childhood, spent some time in prison, and was ready to turn his life around when Pastor Walker brought him to a manufacturing career information event. Jerome was one of over 100 people there that day, but his commitment to success set him apart and led him to enroll in the Pathways program and begin Certified Production Technician training at Erie 1 BOCES. Jerome completed the 300 hour train-as-you-work program and passed the rigorous national exam to become a Certified Production Technician.
90 days after he was hired as a contract employee at Manitoba, Inc., Jerome was hired as a full-time employee and continues to build new skills on the job, including operating a high-end laser cutting machine, which results in rising wages for him as well.
Jerome, please stand and let us congratulate you on your growing career in manufacturing and for being an example that a person can turn their life around no matter the past!
One area where people work very hard for the public is in our Department of Public Works. The men and women of DPW are the "driving" force behind repairing and maintaining roads all across Erie County. With 1,200 center lane miles of road, more than 3 states each have, there's a lot to do but ECDPW is up to the challenge.
Under my administration, DPW has completed tens of millions in road work, covering hundreds of miles of roads.
2018 will be no different as we will invest more than $23 million in county dollars to repair roads like Lake Avenue in Blasdell, Goodrich Road in Clarence, North Forest Road in Amherst, Cleveland Drive in Cheektowaga and many others.
We could do more roads if the federal government passed a comprehensive infrastructure plan. Unfortunately, the recent proposal issued by the Trump administration will NOT result in more road and bridge work in Erie County, instead less will get done.
In case you did not know the Trump plan flips the highway funding formula around: today the federal government pays 80% of a project's cost, under the Trump plan after 2020 it would be 20%.
We use federal funds to pay for large, very expensive projects. There is no way we can fund 80% of the cost for these major projects without sacrificing many other projects or raising taxes.
Any member of Congress who supports the plan is only supporting less highway aid for their community. I call on our local Congressional delegation to publicly reject this plan and increase federal highway aid to localities, not cut it.
Our highways are just one part of our community's infrastructure. Our parks are as well. Under my administration we continue to enhance our natural park legacy. Since 2012 we have invested more than $11,000,000 in our parks system and it shows.
We invested in our parks through the introduction of new programs to expand park visits. Last year we inaugurated the "Park Passport," a copy of which you should have all received, and Junior Park Ranger program to open the parks up to a new generation of county residents. I am proud to say the Junior Park Ranger program was a rousing success and we will be expanding the program this year to encompass even more parks.
Additionally, in 2018 our Parks Department will embark on a new initiative to restore something you have not seen in many years.
Take a walk around Chestnut Ridge Park and you will see many varieties of trees, but not chestnut trees due to the blight that killed almost all of them decades ago.
Starting this year our forestry division will commence an effort using new blight resistant strains to return the Chestnut Tree to Chestnut Ridge Park. While we will not see the results for many years, eventually we hope to restore the Chestnut Tree to the crown jewel of our Parks system - Chestnut Ridge Park.
In 2017 Erie County was proud to join the Hispanic Heritage Council of WNY, the City of Buffalo and others in a local relief effort for Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. When the federal government failed our fellow citizens in their need, we answered the bell and provided needed relief.
We collected tens of thousands of bottles of water, thousands of pounds of food, hygiene products, first aid supplies and more. Americans help other Americans, regardless of where they live and I thank all who donated towards the cause.
We work with our partners to not only help Americans, but better our community, and one of those partners is organized labor. I am proud to say recently my administration came to terms with CSEA Local 815 and AFSCME Local 1095 on new contracts. These are the 10th and 11th contracts settled by my administration, demonstrating our commitment to Erie County workers and their families by reaching fair agreements. While there is a nationwide attack on labor unions, I thank our partners in labor for negotiating in good faith and working to create a better community for all.
Elsewhere, as you all know, Erie County took control of 147 acres on the site of the former Bethlehem Steel plant, adding 93 shovel ready acres to the lucrative brownfield tax credit program. Businesses are already interested in the site, and now we are on to the next phase of completing needed improvements there.
Site improvements already underway include rail relocation to improve accessibility, waterline installation, the extension of Dona Street into the site along, and the completion of a site Master Plan. In addition, the Shoreline Trail bike path will be extended through the site.
These projects alone amount to over $9.5 million in investment, funds which will be returned many times over as new businesses locate here. We anticipate having all these improvements done by the close of 2019, at which point the reborn Bethlehem Steel site will be open for business, something only a few of us envisioned.
Thank you to all who played a role in making this project a reality. This truly was a group effort. Together we are leading the way for a better Erie County.
Economic development needs to work for all. That's why we've changed the way the Erie County Industrial Development Agency does business. ECIDA has implemented a recapture policy, pay equity policy, local labor policy and moved its location to create a one-stop shop of economic development agencies with the state and city.
Some said the policy changes we implemented would stifle economic development. However the opposite occurred.
In fact, the ECIDA had its busiest year ever in 2017, approving 24 projects with a total private investment estimated at over $282 million. These projects created 326 new permanent jobs along with nearly 1,300 temporary construction jobs.
Also, it should be noted there is a concurrent rise in projects that never came before the IDA for incentives of any kind, including, but not limited to, 3M's Tonawanda Plant Expansion, the current phase of adaptive reuse of One Seneca Tower, the AM&A's Building, the A&P Warehouse, the Hi-Temp Fabrication Reuse and many others. That is the sign of a strong economy - one where tax incentives are not necessary to spur economic growth.
Today the ECIDA is the statewide example of what an IDA should be: one that ensures the public benefits from the tax incentives we provide. Thank you to all who made it possible.
While we have achieved much, there is always more to do.
British-American author Simon Sinek said, "Leadership is not about the next election, it's about the next generation."
By leading in areas where others fear to tread, we will build an Erie County that's better for generations to come.
In 2017 NYS Governor Cuomo mandated that local municipalities must participate in a shared services plan to reduce costs. I am proud to say that Erie County responded to the call and developed a plan that built on the successes of a similar effort in 2015. All told, our 2015 and 2017 Erie County shared service planning has led to nearly $25 million in annual savings for county taxpayers.
While we are tightening belts in governments at all levels across the county, some real cost centers with heavy impacts on taxes also need to participate.
Here is something I bet you did not know: in 2017, the total tax levy for the county, cities, towns, villages, school districts and other districts, like fire and special improvement districts, across the county was nearly $1.8 billion dollars.
However, only 36% of that was levied by the county, cities, towns and villages.
Think about that for a second. 36% of all taxes in our county are levied by the County, 3 cities, 25 towns and 16 villages.
So who levied the other 64%?
School, fire, and other special districts did.
There is only so much belt-tightening we can do when the majority of taxes you pay go to school and special districts we have no control over.
The Governor, Assembly and Senate have called on us to continue to work together to reduce our tax levy, which we will do.
However, the entities that drive property tax growth, and make up a majority of your tax bill, are currently not required to participate on the shared services panel.
There is no doubt that efficiencies could be achieved if only they were forced to do so.
That is why I am calling on New York State government to do what it must do if we are to remain competitive: require school and other districts to sit on shared service panels and provide incentives to merge these districts to reduce unnecessary expenses.
Let me give you an example of how merging school districts in one Erie County town could result in millions of dollars in savings without the closing of one school or the layoff of a single teacher, teacher's aide, janitor or other direct educator to children.
The poster-child for too many school districts is the Town of Cheektowaga. Cheektowaga had rapid growth in the 1950s and 1960s, and it reached population peak of 113,844 in 1970. However, by 2010 Cheektowaga's population had dropped to 88,226, and it is expected to continue to drop.
Moreover, between 2000 and 2010 Cheektowaga saw a drop of children aged 17 and under by nearly 15%: 16,466 to 14,021; and that trend has continued to grow throughout this decade.
So why is it as the population of Cheektowaga gets substantially smaller, meaning the tax base and number of children attending school gets smaller, we still have 5 major school districts?
Yes there are 5 major school districts in Cheektowaga: Cheektowaga Central, Maryvale, Cheektowaga-Sloan/JFK, Cleveland Hill and Depew, and that does not include the other districts that overlap into Cheektowaga, like West Seneca, Lancaster and Williamsville.
Why is it Tonawanda, with slightly less in population than Cheektowaga, or West Seneca can each have one major school district serving its residents?
Why is it the Williamsville Central School District has 1,000 more students than the combined Cheektowaga districts but spends $2.3 million less in administrative costs?
Why is it that school and fire districts that were created in the days when horses shared the roads with Model T's are still in existence today?
I will tell you why, because there has never been the political will to take this issue on.
If we are serious about creating a more competitive environment for the future, then we must take on these issues now.
This is not about cutting teachers and increasing class sizes, but about eliminating duplicative top-heavy administrative costs.
Think about it, if you have 5 school districts in an area where you could have one, you have 5 superintendents, 5 chief financial officers, 5 external auditors and so on and so on.
We often bemoan the number of people who have left Erie County for places like Charlotte, North Carolina with lower taxes.
However, did you know one school district, just one, makes up the entire district for the county where Charlotte is located: the Charlotte-Mecklenberg School District. That district has more than 135,000 students enrolled in it, yet it has one superintendent, one chief financial officer, one chief academic officer, and so on and so on. I know because I looked it up.
You could merge every school district in Cheektowaga into one district, similar to Ken-Ton, and you would save more than $2 million in the first year alone from the elimination of duplicative administrative offices.
How do we know? For the past few months my administration has been doing the research, getting information from school districts. We did this for all 32 school districts in Erie County and very soon we will be releasing a report on our findings, which will be VERY eye-opening.
This should have been an easy report to do, but it wasn't. Many districts do not put their budget information online, and then when we asked for it getting the data was like pulling teeth to get it.
One of my staff members had to physically visit some school district offices and take dozen of photos of the pages of a hard copy of the budget books to get this information.
This is unacceptable. You can go on to the county's website and download our entire budget, seeing exactly how much each job pays, but not in many of these districts.
Maybe they don't really want the public to know how much they are costing our citizens, but today we deserve not only to know how much they cost us in total, and by job, we deserve a system that works for all.
That is why it is time to have a serious discussion about merger of school districts to reduce costs. Additionally, districts that undertake consolidation are awarded an additional 40% in school aid from the State of New York. We can cut costs and provide students with a better education through additional state assistance.
The same needs to occur for fire districts. As was shown in a recent Buffalo News article, depending on what side of the street you live on, you could pay 4 times as much in fire district taxes than your neighbor across the street.
It is time to discuss merging duplicative special districts to reduce costs. This can be done without reducing services.
It is also why these districts must be required to sit on countywide shared services panels. If you really want to reduce the cost of government in Erie County you must include the taxing entities, school and special districts, that make up more than 60% of all taxes levied in our county. It is as simple as that.
So I say to Governor Cuomo and the members of the Assembly and Senate: if you make the shared services panels permanent you must include school, fire and other special districts on it as well.
And to my fellow elected officials in our community who bemoan the cost of government and always beat the drum about how high our taxes are: join me in the call to merge and control spending at these special districts. If you do not do so, then we will know you really have no interest in taking the tough action necessary to lower taxes.
I am serious about this. If our county is to continue to grow we must reduce the costs that truly make us non-competitive: school, fire and other special district taxes.
We can do this. We have shown the ability to lead when others would not.
For example, while others have failed to pass new, strong Ethics Laws, we did so here.
Working with the new majority in the Erie County legislature, I have been able to secure a new ethics law that increases transparency and reinforces public faith in the integrity of elected officials. I want to thank the legislature for unanimously passing this new strong Ethics Law, and especially Chairman Peter Savage for making passing a new Ethics Law a priority of his. I will sign this law into effect soon after a required public hearing is held.
March is Women's History Month and today (March 8) is International Women's Day, a day to celebrate the achievements of women. Women's issues affect us all, and in Erie County we remain committed to Pay Equity and fairness between employees regardless of gender.
We also remain steadfast in raising awareness of and helping to stop domestic violence. I thank the members of the Erie County Commission on the Status of Women, its Executive Director Karen King and our many community partners for advancing these issues and for the role they are playing in forming the women leaders of tomorrow.
It has been nearly 100 years since women won the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment. Women make up half the population, yet continue to be woefully underrepresented in elected office.
While 2018 has marked a watershed moment with regard to women running for elected office, we know that there is still much work to be done to ensure greater gender equity, including more opportunities for women to have many seats at the political and business leadership table.
In order to change that the Erie County Commission on the Status of Women is partnering with several organizations across New York on a new program entitled, First Amendment-First Vote.
First Amendment First Vote is a non-partisan civic engagement program designed to encourage high school girls to actively participate in the political process through a series of learning opportunities including educational workshops and fieldtrips.
Students from across Erie County will be participating in the inaugural session at the Buffalo History Museum on March 10, partake in a field trip to historic Seneca Falls in early May, and then this Fall participate in a summit with students from Central New York in Seneca Falls; which in case you do not know is the birthplace of the U.S. Women's Rights Movement.
With the ECCSW and our partners we are teaching a new generation of women about the possibilities that await them and the ways they can become the leaders of tomorrow. We are proud to help make it happen.
In 2018 we will once again be leading the way in new approaches to treating opioid addiction and overdoses.
Our Department of Health is partnering with the Cheektowaga Police Department on a new initiative designed to get individuals who've overdosed into treatment quickly.
Any time an individual overdoses and is saved with Narcan, the police and a peer counselor from the Health Department will follow up with that person the next day to ensure that they are getting into treatment. This partnership will save lives. Additionally, thanks to recent grant funding, we'll expand this project to several additional towns in the coming months. So stay tuned for more information on this program.
We will also be enhancing public safety in 2018 by ensuring that residents have law enforcement available when it is needed, with the closest agency responding to calls regardless of what hat or color uniform they wear.
When I came into office as executive I found out if you called 911 in our suburban, but especially our rural areas, often the closest police car wouldn't respond to your call. So in my first term I directed then Central Police Services Commissioner Glascott to find a way to ensure the closest car would respond.
Our team has since developed software that can identify the closest available police car in the areas serviced by both the Erie County Sheriff and the New York State Police. With this advanced software police dispatchers can instantly identify which officer is closest to respond, regardless of whether that's an ECSO Deputy or a NYS Trooper.
We tested this program starting in 2016. We started to implement program in early-2017 in District Two, which covers the Clarence area. After initial success there, the program was expanded to include Districts One and Three, which include Marilla and Grand Island.
To date, approximately half of Erie County is utilizing the closest car program for every call to the 911 Center and we intend to expand the program to all of Erie County by the end of 2018.
I thank Sheriff Howard and state police for their efforts to ensure residents receive even faster response times and for their partnership with my administration in making the closest car concept a reality in Erie County.
Speaking about protecting the public, I am proud to live in a state that values the lives of its citizens above the right to own any weapon you want. As we have seen far too often, no place is safe anymore: churches, movie theaters, concerts, and, schools.
So far our community has been spared from adding its name to the long list of mass shooting locations. Perhaps it's because of our strong state laws, but we should never leave the future to chance.
That is why I will continue to speak in favor of the passage of national common sense gun legislation to reduce this senseless violence in our country. When we see the slaughter of innocent school children, how can we not stand up and say Never Again.
As the famous quote goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Well if our nation does nothing we can expect more of these mass shootings in the future. That is not a future any of us should want to see.
So please join me in calling for the passage of common sense gun laws that reinstate the ban of assault-type weapons that used to exist from 1994 to 2004. We can do this. We must.
While Congress must lead on that issue, Erie County can lead on the issue of Fair Housing, especially now that the Trump administration is instituting regulations which weaken enforcement of federal fair housing laws. Just as a rising tides should lift all boats economically, that same tide should present the same housing opportunities to all regardless of their background and status.
Discrimination in housing is insidious, stealing the dignity of hard working men and women and creating false divisions in what should be a diverse and vibrant community.
That is why I once again call on the legislature to pass a fair housing law to protect all individuals from the discrimination that invariably exists.
Current laws do not protect against discrimination based on marital status, disabilities, gender identity and source of income. We have a proud tradition of leading when others won't, and that is why working with the current legislature I know we can pass such a law this year.
We also must continue to discuss the issue of ensuring affordable housing for all. Every portion of our country is holding this discussion, and we can lead on this as well by supporting policies that promote the availability of affordable housing.
Our region has a long history of housing segregation, if not by law then by fact, and that is continuing through our creation of a downtown Buffalo where only the wealthy can live.
Government should never promote projects that continue such segregation, nor incentivize a project that creates even more housing inequity. We must work to ensure good housing for all.
That's why this past month Erie County, through our Department of Environment and Planning and with assistance procured by Congressman Brian Higgins, built three new homes for the Lackawanna Housing Development Agency to be rented to families who qualified under low income guidelines. This is just one way we are addressing the affordable housing needs of our community. I thank all who worked on this project to create a better Lackawanna, and I know working together we can create a better, more inclusive and affordable Erie County.
Another way in which we can protect and promote our community is by finally implementing a countywide planning board.
We have seen the value of community planning in the Shared Services Panel, with as much stakeholder input as possible in pursuit of greater efficiencies and better use of resources.
The same concept is applicable to a countywide planning board that takes inter-municipal issues into account and pursues objectives that have a wider impact. Countywide planning will involve more communities, allow for "bigger picture" thinking, and will bring better coordination of resources to bear on development projects.
I am sorry to say Erie is one of just a few counties in NYS to NOT have a countywide planning board, and now is the time to make it happen. We need to pass a law creating a countywide planning board by the end of this year.
I have been honored to serve as your County Executive for these past 6 years. They have been years of challenges and successes, years of hard work and teamwork. But through them all the true spirit of who we are, what we stand for, and what we strive to become has been at the forefront of our efforts.
2018 will again be a year of challenges, with a shifting landscape at the federal level and changes coming from Albany as well. In Erie County we'll continue to find our way forward, together, and face whatever challenges may come.
And when others won't lead, whether it is on climate change, infrastructure, economic inclusion, fair housing, or the protection of the most vulnerable amongst us, you know we will. Erie County will lead the way forward.
Thank you for joining me here this afternoon, God bless you, and may God bless Erie County and the United States of America.