Remarks as prepared for delivery-
I would like to start by thanking Jack Quinn for that gracious introduction. Jack and I have worked on a number of initiatives, most notably the new STEM building that will be constructed on the ECC North campus, and I thank him for his vision and partnership on that project. Together we are putting in place the foundation for our students to study and gain the skills they need to succeed in the career fields of today.
I also want to thank our Federal, State and County officials and our leaders at the city, town and village levels for being here tonight and for your service to our community.
Thank you to Sgt. Ramos for leading us through the Pledge of Allegiance, your service to our country and for being part of the National Guard’s contingent which helped out during Winter Storm Knife this past November.
Thank you as well to Bishop T. Anthony Bronner of Elim Christian Fellowship Church in Buffalo for giving such an inspiring invocation.
I would like to thank Mary Jean Jakubowski and the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library Board for, yet again, being such gracious hosts in a building owned and maintained by the people of Erie County.
Look around you, because the next time you are in this room it will be different. Erie County is investing more than $500,000 this year to update the facility with new seats, carpet and modern technology. This is just another example of how we as a county must invest in our infrastructure not only for today, but as a foundation for future generations use and enjoyment of the Library system.
Finally, thank you to everyone in attendance here tonight and welcome everyone at home watching us on Time Warner Cable News or online at WNYMedia.net.
Tonight, I would like to speak to you not only about where we’ve come in the past three years, but what lies ahead this year and beyond.
When I came into office, we were following a period in which we were constantly told how dysfunctional government was and how it just couldn’t do anything right.
For decades now, we have heard how government is the problem.
What we have shown during the past 3 years is government is not automatically the problem; it can be part of the solution.
As we’ve seen, government, when run properly, can lay the foundation for a better future for all.
Through prudent budgeting, investing in our community’s well-being, and focusing on improving our region’s infrastructure we have laid the groundwork for a better, stronger Erie County. In the process, we have created a county that works for all of its residents – from a young child born in this country to immigrant parents on the west side of Buffalo to the fourth generation of family farmer in Marilla nearing retirement.
Because of the foundation we have put in place, the state of Erie County is strong.
Today there are possibilities and opportunities in place that our forefathers could never have imagined, and in some ways maybe we could not have imagined just five years ago.
The essential building blocks for the foundation of a prosperous and dynamic Erie County are right here, and we have been cementing that foundation for the last three years.
While we have accomplished much during this time, there is more work still to do to ensure the tremendous gains we have seen in the “New Buffalo” – the “New Erie County” – are not just enjoyed by a select few.
Tonight I will talk about how we in Erie County can create the community we have always dreamed it could be.
A community that is more inclusive for seniors, minorities, women, the disabled and the disadvantaged.
A community that not only maintains but enhances the services our residents demand.
A community that protects our quality of life, while keeping taxes low, and provides everyone an opportunity to succeed.
However, before we discuss what is needed to take our community to the next level we have to look back just a few years to get a sense of how far we’ve come.
When I ran for county executive I said the focus of my administration would be on turning around our economy and creating a bright, vibrant job market.
That is what we did and the proof of our success is in the statistics released by the state labor department each month.
When I took office in January of 2012 the county’s unemployment rate was 8.9% and there were 40,600 unemployed residents in Erie County.
Following a broad effort, as of the end of 2014 I am proud to say there are 16,500 less people on the unemployment rolls and the rate of unemployment had dropped to 5.5%, lower than the state and national averages.
Some will argue the unemployment rate is deceiving because what it really shows is people are giving up looking for work because the jobs don’t exist, but that’s just not true.
Fueled by the highest rate of private-sector job growth our community has seen since 2000, the Buffalo-Niagara Region today has the highest average annual amount of jobs than at any point in the last 14 years – 553,000 in 2014 and that trend continued for January of this year.
We are not talking about restoring the local job market to conditions prior to the 2008 global economic meltdown, but to levels our region has not seen since today’s college freshmen were in pre-school.
And contrary to what many people believe, the truth is private sector jobs have grown while the public sector has declined. In fact, from January of 2012 to January of this year, the private sector gained more than 14,000 jobs, while the public sector actually shed more than 3,000.
So the next time someone says there are no jobs, just tell them in three short years more that 14,000 new private sector jobs have been created and many more are on the way.
This trend of growth exists in other areas as well.
As was reported in the Buffalo News this morning, the County’s population numbers are also rebounding, as for the first time in decades Erie County is seeing continued year-to-year population growth, including a rapidly expanding immigrant population.
Furthermore, we are no longer losing our most precious resource – our young – who now choose to stay in our region; thereby laying a foundation for future generations of success here in western New York.
Without a strong economy or growing population, we cannot become the community we know we can be. Taken together, these positive growth factors are important building blocks for our future.
Another block, perhaps a cornerstone, and a good example of how much has changed in just a short period of time, is the difference an involved county government can make in the lives of its residents.
When I took office as executive, county government did not lead on the issues that forged our community’s future.
Instead, it hid in the background as if it was afraid to make a difference. That had to change.
Government, at its core, is a representation of its people.
It should be aspirational in nature – a manifestation of our better angels – and be the captain of our communal ship setting the course for all.
We set that course by taking Erie County government out of the shadows and back to the forefront by reassuming its leadership role in areas that affect our citizens.
For example, we are working to create a robust local economy with opportunities for all people.
My administration’s economic development plan, Initiatives for a Smart Economy, identified an achievable course for economic development and potential partners to collaborate with. Today we are nurturing successes in these areas and expect even greater returns in years to come.
The County is leading in the area of the Smart Growth and the environment as well. We are working to turn around empty brownfields all across our county and restore them to productive use. From the Bethlehem Steel site in Lackawanna, to Riverbend in South Buffalo, and to multiple locations in Tonawanda, the sites of our past industrial glory are ready for 21st-century business.
On issues of workplace equality, government must lead and defend the rights of all. It has been more than 50 years since passage of the Equal Pay Act but shockingly, in 2015 women are paid on average 77 cents for every dollar a man makes for similar work.
That difference is even more glaring for women of color, and change is long overdue.
This is as much an issue of economic development as it is fundamental fairness. That is why last year I called on the ECIDA to enact an equal pay policy, but I realized Erie County could go further to make pay equity a reality.
So this past year I signed Executive Order Number 13 requiring all private contractors to county specific contracts to sign a verification that, 1, they pay their female employees equally and, 2, they agree to be subject to periodic audits by the County’s Equal Employment Opportunity Division to confirm they are, in fact, following the law.
I ask the members of the Erie County Commission on the Status of Women to stand so we may all thank them for the work they do every day to support and bring to the fore women’s issues such as equal pay and eliminating the scourge that is domestic violence.
As they know, 50 years is much too long to see a law truly be enforced and because of their work the next generation of women will not have to wait another 50 years for equality. Thank you.
The County is leading in promoting our vibrant arts community as well. When I took office, arts and cultural funding was an annual battle. Our county government treated our world renowned cultural institutions as a burden, not an asset of our community. We changed that mindset right away.
For starters, we implemented a steady and predictable process for cultural funding which has helped arts organizations of all sizes thrive.
Moreover, working with our partners at the Albright Knox Art Gallery and the City of Buffalo, this year we brought the beauty and benefit of the arts right into the community. Public Art collaborative projects like Tape Art, You Are Beautiful, and of course, Canalside’s favorite resident, Shark Girl have created a communitywide discussion and appreciation of art.
Along with putting art right in our communities, the distribution of 30,000 art kits to local middle school students provides them the opportunity to study the masters by literally putting great art in their hands.
I can personally attest to the joy in their eyes when they received the kits. My thanks go to Albright Knox Director Dr. Janne Siren, Public Art Curator Aaron Ott and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown for their commitment to this community and for their vision and hard work to bring the wonders of the art world out of the gallery and in to the community.
These are all examples of how, just by changing the way county government acts, we were able to lay a foundation for a stronger, more connected, more unified Erie County.
Let’s take a look at other bricks in the foundation we’ve laid and what we hope to do to build upon it in the future.
Fiscal responsibility, the provision of essential programs and services such as the People’s Mandates, Providing for the Community’s Greater Good, investments in public health and safety, and wise economic development are all important bricks in Erie County’s foundation and all play a key role in our region’s resurgence.
Let us start with the first, biggest building block: creating jobs and strengthening our economy.
As I noted earlier, unemployment is down significantly in Erie County and there are fourteen thousands more private sector jobs in our region than on the day I took office.
While we can’t take credit for all of that, we certainly can take credit for creating a business environment that is conducive to growth.
The key component to the county’s effort was the release in 2013 of our “Initiatives for a Smart Economy” agenda.
Of the 64 initiatives, many are complete or near-completion such as:
- redeveloping the former Bethlehem Steel site;
- establishing a WNY Sustainable Business Roundtable;
- partnering with NYS in the creation of a Regional Workforce Advancement Center;
- the engineering, designing and construction of the new North Youngmann Commerce Center Park in Tonawanda;
- establishing an Erie County Energy Management Office;
- seeking additional private sector investment in our region from the Greater Toronto Area.
But we are not done yet. This year we are moving ahead with other initiatives, such as:
- assisting local villages demolish or rehabilitate blighted structures;
- establishing a shovel ready site for an agribusiness park to serve our growing agricultural processing market;
- working with partners to establish an energy conservation revolving loan program;
- implementing the $12 million Rush Creek Interceptor Project to create a cleaner water supply; and
- moving forward with design and engineering work to construct the new Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Building for ECC.
We have also re-energized the Erie County Industrial Development Agency with a sharp focus on real economic development and wise use of incentives.
Gone are the days of unquestioned tax incentives for whoever applied for them, with no accountability for them and no recourse for taxpayers.
We are demanding developers create new, net economic wealth for our region in exchange for a tax break and holding them accountable - if they don’t create the jobs they say they will we recapture the tax break from them.
We also implemented new rules requiring the hiring of local labor for any business seeking an incentive for a construction project.
Additionally, we created the “one stop shop” for economic development at 95 Perry Street to bring all major economic development agencies under one roof.
The “one stop” approach is a smart way to streamline the process of creating jobs by concentrating the players in one location, making it easier for business to navigate our landscape and for agencies to collaborate in creating growth.
Most importantly, it is working.
Examples are all around us and are a big reason behind the buzz in Erie County. Let’s look at just a few examples of from the past few years:
Solar City is investing $3 billion to create the largest solar panel production facility in the Western Hemisphere, bringing with it more than 3,000 new high-tech green jobs. My thanks to Governor Cuomo for his commitment to Erie County and for the Buffalo Billion plan which made this development possible. Clean technology is the new way in the new Erie County.
But it is not just large companies that are an example of our region’s economic turnaround. Small ones are part of our foundation for our future too and there is one in particular that is a shining example of how far our community has come in a few short years.
This past December, Bak USA opened the doors to its production facility in downtown Buffalo at Compass East, the former location of Sheehan Hospital. But Bak is unlike any other production facility in our region, or for that matter anywhere in North America.
Working with our Department of Social Services PIVOT Program to employ previously unemployed individuals and through assistance obtained from Governor Cuomo’s StartUp NY program, Bak manufactures affordable, high-quality computer tablets for the international market.
And we are not talking about a “home-grown” success story because the owners of Bak, Ulla and JP Bak, come to Erie County via their home country of Denmark and then Haiti, where they previously produced similar devices.
Think about it. Buffalo is the home of a manufacturing company, owned by Danish nationals, who previously built tablets in Haiti, now producing tablets for the world’s emerging markets, especially in Africa.
By the way, you don’t have to live in Africa to own a Bak tablet. I bought mine and trust me it is as good as anything else on the market and it’s the only tablet on the market that says “Assembled in Buffalo, NY.”
Nothing else I can think of exemplifies the spirit of the “New Erie County” than Bak USA.
Ulla and JP Bak have joining us here this evening and I ask them to stand so we can all thank them for being part of our region’s rebirth. Thank you.
From Solar City to Bak USA, investors big and small are realizing the many benefits of doing business in Erie County. But we are not done on the economic front. We need to continue working with our partners at the ECIDA, New York State, the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise and other important organizations to build upon the foundation we have laid.
Now is not the time to stand back and admire our accomplishments. Now is the time to roll up our sleeves further to take our economy to unseen heights. And Erie County government will lead in that effort.
Another, key part of our foundation for our future is maintaining fiscal responsibility. Fiscal responsibility includes many things, but it truly means ensuring the services the public needs and demands are provided in the best way possible.
I was elected Comptroller in 2006 as the people’s fiscal watchdog to guard the public’s piggy bank.
While I may have changed jobs, my resolve to protect the people’s money has not dimmed one bit. As County Executive I have continued to scrutinize the county’s bottom line as we build a better county.
For example, my administration has passed three on-time budgets, without the theater and drama that residents had grown accustomed to in prior years. By maintaining open lines of communication with other elected officials and with legislators, we have produced budgets with no surprises, just good sound fiscal practices that are sensible and appropriate.
In fact, this year the county’s budget includes a modest tax decrease, and I thank the Legislature for working with me to make it happen.
Gone are the doomsday predictions, the threats and over-inflated rhetoric that were so prevalent in the past. They have been replaced by dialogue and compromise in order to complete the people’s business, and the results are evident.
To underscore this point, who can tell me the last time the Control Board needed to get involved in the budget process? Heck, when was the last time anyone ever heard of the Control Board?
They are still around but in an advisory status. I thank the members of the Control Board for their service to the community and for their support of my budgets. Thank you,
As our budgets have stabilized and we’ve gotten back on our feet, our fiscal reputation has been steadily improving with ratings agencies.
When I took office as Comptroller Erie County’s credit rating was one notch above junk bond status. We had the worst credit rating of any municipality in the Northeast, but not anymore.
After 9 years of hard work, this past September, Standard & Poor’s gave Erie County an unprecedented three-step rating upgrade, to AA-. The new rating for Erie County is the highest rating the County has ever received from S&P and takes the county’s credit rating for any rating agency to its highest level in more than a decade. That deserves a round of applause.
Fiscal responsibility also means negotiating fair contracts with the public sector unions representing Erie County’s workforce.
When I took office in January 2012, contracts had lapsed with seven out of eight of our public sector unions, affecting thousands of workers and their families. It was an unsustainable situation that should never have been allowed to develop, but ignoring it and not negotiating was not an option.
Instead, as in other areas, my administration started a dialogue, which developed into negotiations, which developed into contract settlements with all direct county bargaining units within the first three years of my administration.
As a result, fair and reasonable contracts are now in place with employees. These contracts will save the people of Erie County at least $136 million dollars in future retiree health care costs.
Let me repeat that – saving more than $136 million dollars in the long run.
I thank the members of all of our bargaining units for negotiating in good faith and ratifying contracts that are in the best interest of everyone – our employees and all of our bosses – the people of Erie County.
However, we are not done yet because contracts still need to be settled with our units at ECC and others will expire. As before, we will work to resolve these matters in amicable manner, treating our employees with respect, while ensuring the continued fiscal stewardship of our county.
More than anything, fiscal responsibility entails a close scrutiny on all public expense, and a necessary justification for spending the public’s money.
There has been a debate in our community on whether we need a new football stadium for the Bills. Talk to ten different people and you will get ten different answers.
What is not in debate is essential social services, programs for seniors and children, and investments in our libraries, parks and roads must never be sacrificed at the altar of a new football stadium or any other large-scale pie in the sky project.
I take the responsibility of representing the people of Erie County very seriously. All elected officials are charged with protecting the interests of our constituents and providing for them when and where possible, and those interests must always come first in any discussion about the allocation of public funds.
If we continue to follows these principles, we will build upon the strong foundation we have laid, ensuring the continued growth of our community.
Another important set of building blocks are the People’s Mandates.
These are the programs and services that residents demand but that the private sector either can’t or won’t provide. Investing in our libraries, parks, roads and public health programs are essential building blocks that add to our quality of life.
Working together we have shown that government can efficiently provide the services that residents expect and demand.
For example, funding for libraries, always a political football in the years prior to my administration, has not just steadied but actually grown. I made a promise to the community that I would not cut library funding but find a way to grow it, and I have kept that promise.
I thank my partners in the Legislature for working with me to invest in our libraries, which in turn is an investment in the future of our community. Thank you.
When it comes to investing in our community there is truly one area that has a direct impact on the foundation for our region: our infrastructure.
As we know, Erie County winters such as this latest one take a harsh toll on our roads, but we cannot back away from the responsibility to repair Mother Nature’s effects to the best extent we can.
My administration has spent over $60 million in the past two years alone to improve and repair our roads and bridges, surpassing the expenditures of previous administrations and underscoring my commitment to providing residents with the best roads possible.
Furthermore, we are putting together some of the final pieces on a plan right now to invest more than $25 million this year on additional road work, and this year we are implementing a new program to address our roads.
With more lane miles of road than the states of Delaware, Rhode Island, or Hawaii, Erie County has an extensive road inventory that includes heavily-traveled cross-town routes as well as quiet residential streets.
Many of these roads should not be the responsibility of the county, and should be returned back to the towns.
As such, my administration has created a special $1 million fund to repair roads presently in the county inventory, if the corresponding municipality agrees to take over ownership of the road when repairs are complete.
This fund will be available annually on a first-come, first-served basis and is already spurring interest and is another example of how working together as a region we can create a better tomorrow.
Maintaining roads is not just good for drivers but for the future of our community. When we ignore our degrading infrastructure we weaken our community’s foundation.
That is why my administration will continues to lead the effort to ensure our infrastructure keeps up with the great growth we are experiencing.
Another important part of the People’s Mandates, and a key asset of our greater community is our parks. Erie County’s Parks system offers “10,000 Acres to Enjoy.”
Since 2012, more than $5.6 million has been spent on capital projects in the parks and an additional $4 million will be spent in 2015.
Why do we do this? We hold our parks in a public trust for future generations. We must protect them.
At Chestnut Ridge, Como, Ellicott Creek, Emery, and many other parks visitors are enjoying improved shelters, new tennis courts, restored facilities, smoother roads and parking lots, and other amenities.
For example, last Year at Chestnut Ridge, working with our Department of Environment and Planning’s Geographic Information System, the Parks department was able to create a new park map using the latest GPS technology so we all know when we go hike the Eternal Flame Trail it is exactly .56 miles in length. This year we will be completing a similar map for Emery Park, and eventually we will do the same for all of our historic parks.
At Elma Meadows we will begin a project long needed: the replacement of the watering system at the golf course. The current system is the original system from the 1950s, requires tremendous manual labor to run and wastes millions of gallons of water.
By installing a modern system we will not only save countless man hours of labor, which can be better used for other purposes, but our environment in the process by more efficiently using our water supply. And the golfers will see a much improved course, though there scores will still be up to them.
Investing in our parks builds a real foundation for future generations. We must strive to leave them in better condition than when we found them, and we are doing just that.
While ensuring the People’s Mandates are a key building block for our future, providing for the health and welfare of our constituents is the keystone of all the building blocks of our county government.
From protecting the most vulnerable children in our county, to ensuring our senior citizens have a hot meal, to helping those, who for no reason of their own, may be dire straits, county government is often the last vestige of hope in what can be an otherwise unforgiving society.
Last year I announced my administration would embark on a comprehensive effort to alleviate the systemic causes of poverty in our community.
Everyone knew this would be a difficult task. But just because a task is difficult does not mean it shouldn’t be attempted.
Now is the time for action, to give those at the lowest rung of our societal ladder the tools they need to climb higher and provide for their families.
We cannot let this incredible “New Erie County” just benefit the select few.
I know, if we work together, we can lift all boats as Erie County’s tide rises.
That is why I tasked our health and human service departments to work together and come up with a comprehensive plan to address the root causes of need – of poverty – in our community.
Similar to how we constructed our economic agenda – Initiatives for a Smart Economy – we took our time to come up with a workable and attainable plan to address the issues we face.
This effort resulted in the recent release of our comprehensive health and human services plan, “Initiatives for a Stronger Community.”
Each initiative addresses one facet, one aspect of need in our community. No one initiative can solve the issue of poverty, but molded together they provide a strong framework –a foundation – to create a better and more just society.
In all there are 49 initiatives; and they are as diverse as educating employers about the benefits of employing disabled workers to creating a volunteer based Poverty Committee to advise our health and human service departments on how best to address the needs of our community.
As part of the plan we will strengthen families by co-locating mental health and substance abuse counselors in our child protective service division to help parents cope with the stresses that often lead to child abuse.
In our rural communities we will support microenterprise opportunities to increase the number of child care facilities; as well as create more respite care opportunities for adults who are taking care of loved ones in need.
I will establish a New Americans Advisory Council which will report directly to me so our county can better address the needs of our rapidly expanding immigrant population.
Each of the 49 initiatives is geared to address a specific area of need. While in many areas Erie County will take the lead, we cannot act alone. We need partners in order to succeed and create the community we know we can become.
And the best example of that is our partnership with the Say Yes Foundation to address the needs of schoolchildren in the City of Buffalo.
Erie County is providing resources and personnel to work with our partners in the school district, Catholic Charities and the Say Yes Foundation to offer wrap-around counseling, health and mental health services to at risk students.
These are the same wrap-around services both President Obama and Governor Cuomo recently said need to be provided in the future to our children.
Well, we don’t need to create the services and we do not need to find the funding source to pay for them because, working together as a team, we are delivering them to at risk students now.
This year we will be expanding our joint program to enter more schools and thereby reach more students.
I thank all of our partners in this endeavor for playing a key role in securing the future of our most precious resource – our children.
Another program we are expanding upon is a homegrown success story, our Department of Social Services PIVOT program. I mentioned this earlier when I spoke about the exciting Bak USA project. For those not familiar, PIVOT stands for Placing Individuals in Vital Opportunity Training.
The program screens public assistance clients to match their skills to those needed by local employers. The program will then pay the full-time wages of the client for up to 6 months with a local business, thereby reducing training costs for the employer. After the 6 month period the client becomes a permanent employee; thereby taking the client off of the public assistance rolls and back on the tax rolls.
The Program has been such a success that this past July, Sandra Neubert and Amy Dvorak of Social Services testified before Congress on its effectiveness and how it could be replicated elsewhere.
PIVOT started as a pilot program here with large companies, and while since 2000 nearly 300 employers and 4,300 individuals have participated, that is just the tip of the iceberg. The next step is to offer PIVOT to many more employers across the county, thereby opening up the field of potential jobs to thousands of more job seekers.
We are doing that today because we are now partnering with the Amherst Chamber of Commerce, to identify additional employment opportunities for the PIVOT program, including small businesses that often do not have the resources necessary to train new employees. Programs like PIVOT show how the tide can rise for everyone.
I ask Sandra and Amy to stand for the wonderful work you have done to develop this program, as well as Colleen DiPirro from the Amherst Chamber of Commerce for embracing this program and working with your members to take this program to the next level. Thank you.
A key component of any health and human service plan is ensuring the health of our community.
The closing of the former Matt Gajewski Clinic in 2009 left a big hole in our community’s health care picture, but like a phoenix rising from the ashes of the closure, that hole has been filled by a state of the art facility to address a critical community need. Of course I am talking about the Erie County Health Mall at 1500 Broadway.
Since I was joined by our partners in cutting the ribbon at the Mall last May, more than 10,000 people have walked through its doors to access the health, mental health, and dental services available there.
We knew there was a need for the Health Mall, but the response has been extraordinary, exceeding all of our expectations and compelling our partners to expand their staffing to meet the community’s needs.
After years of desolation, we are seeing a growing oasis in an area that was previously known as a health care desert.
We know as a community we are only as a strong as are our weakest members. This time, among all recent times, is a propitious one to take on the task of addressing the great need in our community.
If we do not do so now, when the sun and tides are both rising, we will never do it.
Providing a strong foundation for our citizens will strengthen the entire foundation of our community.
Yet there is one more piece to this puzzle, another cornerstone to the overall foundation, and that is a robust system of public health and safety.
Protecting and maintaining the public’s well-being is one of the most important functions of government and one we must be constantly vigilant about.
As we have seen in the past year, concerns can run from global pandemic diseases to how the weather can cripple a region.
Our constituents deserve a county government that is strong enough to respond to such threats should one arise, and we are.
For the third year in a row, Erie County’s national score indicating our ability to respond to a public health emergency requiring use of the Strategic National Drug and Antidote Stockpile has gone up, from 95% in 2013 to 97% last year.
This score had fallen to 65% in the year before I took office as executive, which was unacceptable. In 3 years we have gone from failing to near perfection.
And why does this matter? Because you never know when you might have to address a public health emergency – like we did this week when we quickly responded to a potential public health crisis by opening the emergency hepatitis A clinic.
My administration continues to place a strong emphasis on being ready to respond a public health emergency, and I thank the Departments of Health and Emergency Services for being prepared and at the ready in case the call to address such a crisis must be made.
As we have seen, crises can arise with little warning, and we need to be ready to respond immediately when tested. However, I just never expected we would be put to the test as much as we have, especially during the past year.
Even by Erie County’s standards, 2014 was a busy year for storms, with two official blizzards (Polar Vortex 1/14, Baby Blizzard 3/14) followed by the unprecedented Winter Storm Knife in November.
While every storm presents a unique challenge to emergency management personnel at all levels of government, nothing compared to what hit us last November.
When on Monday November 17 the National Weather Service’s Forecast changed from 2-3 feet of snow in a three day period in the ski country to 3-5 inches of snow an hour in the metro region, I knew we had our hands full.
We sent our trucks on the street to salt and plow the roads. We sent a staff of individuals from the Departments of Emergency Services, Public Works and Health to the emergency operation center. However, nothing we could have done beforehand would have allowed us to keep up with the onslaught Mother Nature unleashed.
If you lived in the storm zone then I do not need to tell you what happened. It was unprecedented. It was awe-inspiring. It was incredible.
And in the end, it also revealed what is so good about our region.
While Mother Nature threw what turned out to be a year’s worth of snow at us in two and half days, we persevered because as a community, as a region and as a state we came together for each other.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with Erie County’s finest in response to WSK were the National Guard and thousands of volunteers from all across NYS who helped to shovel, dig, drive, plow, lift, deliver medicine and otherwise assist in the massive cleanup effort.
And there is one story of all that best exemplifies that spirit. That is the harrowing experience had by Erie County Sheriff’s Captain Jeff Hartman and about 20 of his new friends. You see, Jeff, like many others was stuck in traffic when the snow came down. He was stuck where Milestrip Road meets Route 5 by the Ford Plant.
After being in their vehicles for hours, with their vehicles getting covered by the snow, Jeff knew he had to take action. So, in the driving snow, he went from car-to-car getting people out of their vehicles and formed a human chain in which they walked from the plant to a gas station on Route 5 in Lackawanna.
As they walked they came upon more people in their cars and brought those people safely to the station, a long, slow walk into the teeth of a fierce winter storm.
Using his training Jeff knew people could die in their vehicles if they stayed put. He successfully brought them to safety during perilous conditions, and then he reported to duty at the Emergency Operations Center.
I ask Captain Hartman to stand so we may all congratulate him for his efforts, which may well have saved a life or two. Thank Jeff!!
And I ask all members of county government here tonight who went above and beyond the call of duty to help our community during the storm to stand so we may all congratulate you for your actions during a storm we not soon forget. Thank you.
Following the storm we analyzed what we did right, and what could have been done better. So the next time a storm of similar ferocity hits our region we will be ready. I just hope it doesn’t come back for a few decades at least.
Tonight we’ve taken stock of some of our accomplishments as a county, but also measured what remains to be done.
We stand on the precipice of monumental change.
In just a few short years, we have gone from decade after decade of doldrums to being “the” hot market in the United States.
Expatriates are coming back to the new Erie County.
College graduates are able to find good-paying jobs right here in Erie County, rather than uprooting their dreams and heading to warmer climes.
This is a good time to be in Erie County. When future generations look back on this period they will say with envy those were the “good old days.”
That is because we are building the community we always knew we could be, brick by brick, starting from the strong foundation we have laid these past years.
We have made great strides as a county, but now is not the time to rest.
There are still people in need in our community.
A compassionate government such as our works to ensure their advancement at a great time of growth such as the one we are now experiencing. Indeed, with so much more work to do, we must redouble our efforts to create the community we know it can be.
Let us go forth from here knowing that the future of our community – of Erie County – lies in our hands. Brick by Brick we will not finish the work until we build inclusively on our past accomplishments to create the successes of tomorrow.
Let’s get busy building!
Thank you for joining me here this evening.