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August 2013 Column - County has to prioritize funds, focus on infrastructure repairs


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In my tenure as Erie County Legislator, I’ve learned about the priorities of the current administration and some of my colleagues.  I’ve also learned that their priorities don’t always line up with mine.  I suppose this isn’t really surprising, in fact, it’s probably expected.  However, last month something happened that illustrated exactly how far off I believe the administration’s priorities to be. 

 

During the week of July 15, the Legislature held Mid-Year Budget Hearings to learn how each department in Erie County was faring financially.  The good news is that nearly all departments are operating either at or below their budgeted numbers.  The bad news is that on the very first day of Budget Hearings, there was an unscheduled postponement.  Nobody told us why the chairman of the Finance & Management Committee called for the adjournment and my colleagues and the department heads were left wondering what was happening.

 

After the recess, I learned our long-scheduled Budget Hearings were postponed so that two of my colleagues could attend a press conference at the Darwin Martin House. At the press conference, the County Executive announced that Erie County would be giving the Darwin Martin House $500,000. 

 

This funding had been approved earlier in the year in our Capital Projects Budget.  I voted for it at the time because there were a number of worthwhile projects included.  However, after Legislative approval, the County Executive unilaterally removed certain projects for funding.  He did this without any input from the Legislature.  While he cut projects that included roadwork and repair, he maintained the funding for the Darwin Martin House.

 

During the same week of the Darwin Martin House announcement, the Legislature approved several hundred thousand dollars for bridge work throughout Erie County.  Much to my disappointment, however, the Administration removed $200,000 worth of work previously scheduled in East Aurora.  Needless to say, I was shocked.

 

Since 1996, the Darwin Martin House has received a total of nearly $50 million in funding for renovation and preservation, with $30 million of that is taxpayer money from Erie County and New York State.  On a square footage basis, the Darwin Martin House has received $3,067 per square foot of space.  While I believe the Darwin Martin House is a valuable asset to the WNY community, I have to wonder when enough is enough. 

 

I can’t understand how road repair and bridge work was removed, but the County still gave money to the Darwin Martin House.  That money could have been used for a number of different road projects throughout Erie County, many in dire need of repair.

There is definitely a difference in priorities at play.  If I was planning to buy a new flat screen TV, but my water heater broke, I would certainly fix the water heater before buying the new TV.  I don’t believe the Administration feels the same way.  I believe we all need to work together for the good of Erie County, improve communication, and hopefully find common ground on our priorities.