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May 2014 Column - More should be done to protect children, fix highways


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I pay a lot of taxes.  Many of my neighbors do, too.  In fact, a number of studies have concluded that residents of Western New York pay some of the highest state and local taxes in the nation.  As both a county legislator and a...

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oneilj - Posted on 14 May 2014

I have always subscribed to the philosophy of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The problem is that sometimes things do break and action is required. Such is the case currently in county government in a couple of vital areas.

The first one is literally a matter of life and death. It concerns several deaths of children in the past few years and the inability of Erie County Child Protective Services to prevent these tragedies. These senseless deaths affected every person in our community who has a heart. They certainly impacted the county executive. At a lunch he hosted last year for Republican legislators, he described the pain he felt reading the reports produced following the investigations of the children’s deaths. Last month, he produced a list of 19 recommendations to state legislators designed to improve the chances for children needing our protection.

I do not know if any of the executive’s proposed reforms will be adopted or even whether all of them should be embraced. What I do know is that the county executive realized that the current system for protecting the most vulnerable children in our community is broken, and he is doing everything in his power to fix it. For this, I applaud him.

The second matter involves the deplorable condition of the county highway system. County Legislator Ed Rath calls this a public safety crisis. I would tend to agree. To be sure, the county road system has been suffering for years. Draconian cuts during the red-and-green budget fiasco left the Department of Public Works with far too few resources to adequately maintain the sprawling county road system.

The deterioration was gradual, which to many, I suppose, made it invisible. This year’s harsh winter, however, has exposed the road system for what it is — a mess. The county executive recognizes this and has taken some steps to alleviate the problem. I am at odds with him currently, though, because I think more needs to be done. I do not want to dwell on our differences in this column. Instead, I want to focus on how we fix the broken county highway system. I look forward, therefore, to working with the executive, the Department of Public Works, various town officials and my colleagues in the Legislature to develop long-term solutions to our challenges. We should consider all options, including alternative funding mechanisms and further collaboration with the towns. Together, we can make our road system better. But we have to admit that there is a problem and work together to solve it.

If you have thoughts you would like to share, I would love to hear from you. I can be contacted by phone at 858-8672 or via email at kevin.hardwick@erie.gov.