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December 2013 Column - Today's hasty decisions could have long lasting implications


OFFICE HIGHLIGHTS

Thanks to a partnership between Albright Knox Art Gallery and Erie County, thousands of educational art kits are being delivered to local middle schools. On Wednesday, Feb. 25, Erie County Legislator Joseph Lorigo joined West Seneca East Middle...

Recently, several of my colleagues in the Erie County Legislature proposed a law that would impose term limits on all county elected officials.  The law allows for three four-year terms for the County Executive, Comptroller, Clerk, District...

Last year, the Legislature unanimously approved an additional $5 million to be spent specifically for infrastructure repair.  However, the County Executive opposed the additional spending, claiming the money could not be used in the 2014...

The Erie County Legislature’s Majority Leader, Joseph C. Lorigo, sent a letter to the County Executive asking for further explanation concerning his withdrawal of Carol Dankert-Maurer’s name as Mental Health Commissioner....

Like many of you, I awoke on Jan. 9 to some snow and blowing wind. It wasn’t anything we hadn’t dealt with before. For many of us, after the 7-foot Snovember storm, it seemed like nothing. Because of the conditions, the roads were a...

As the Erie County Legislature closes out the year, some action has been taken that doesn’t reflect how I believe government should run. 

 

Earlier this month, the Legislature’s current majority adopted the 2014 budget with a measure that amortizes $8.6 million in pension obligations. I am extremely disappointed that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle did not consider the Minority Caucus’ amendment package to cut unnecessary spending and avoid deferring payments. Our amendment package cut $8.6 million sensibly without any impact on services or departments. We could have fully funded the resident-demanded programs while paying our total $40 million pension obligation in 2014.

 

I could not support a budget that shoved our obligations onto future taxpayers. It was incredibly frustrating that my colleagues would not consider our amendment package and instead voted on a plan that may very well cause Erie County to incur more than $2 million in interest costs. The county executive has said that amortizing the payment will be done as a last resort. I hope that is true.  My colleagues and I in the new majority are ready to work with the county executive to implement spending cuts that will ensure pension payments are made without penalty. I firmly believe that this one decision has the potential for long-term ramifications, putting Erie County on a slippery slope from which it may never recover.   Everyone is aware that pension costs can be crippling, but Erie County had the ability to pay its obligation without borrowing from New York State.

 

In another recent action which I believe was the epitome of bad government, two Legislators authored and forced a local law for a vote without due diligence. In a matter of 15 days, those Legislators believed that Erie County had enough information to make a significant decision concerning hydraulic fracturing on county property. At the Legislature’s Dec. 12 session, I voted against the proposed local law to ban fracking. The local law was never sent to the Energy & Environment Committee for a discussion.  I believe the Legislature should have had an opportunity to hear from both sides of the issue before forcing such an important vote. This is a perfect example of putting politics before good government, and I could not vote for the law in good conscience.   

 

Erie County already has a law from 1993 in place that regulates fracking on county land. The 2013 law is not only redundant, but due to its wording and procedure, it is also illegal. To outright ban fracking on county land, the county must go through the state required SEQR process.  This was not done prior to the passage of this local law, thereby making the law invalid on its face.  In my legal experience, this makes Erie County vulnerable to litigation.  If this happens, taxpayers will bear the burden of defending a potentially illegal law in court.  That could get very costly over a law that offers no new protection for Erie County residents. 

 

Overall, the lack of discussion and full vetting of the issue is disappointing. I look forward to a new majority next year when proper procedure will be followed, resulting in a better county government for the residents. Perhaps then we will avoid wasteful spending of tax dollars and illegal laws.