While this winter hasn’t been the mildest on record, we also didn’t have a major blast that paralyzed the community, causing massive cleanup efforts. Unfortunately, the effects of a storm that hit seven years ago resurfaced in a big way. On Feb. 27, the Erie County Legislature learned that the Federal Emergency Management Agency audited the claims from the October Surprise Storm of 2006 and wants more than $48 million to be paid back.
I was shocked to learn of this audit and agree with the county executive and comptroller that the findings are flawed. The auditors did not take into account a portion of the Stafford Act that allowed the county to use local labor to begin immediate cleanup to restore our region.
As a legislator at the time, I supported the decision to employ local businesses. Streets were impassable, power lines were down and homes and businesses were without power. It was necessary that the county respond immediately to these hazards.
While I believe that $39 million of the total claim is bogus, I remain concerned about the balance, $9 million, that FEMA claims is undocumented. If FEMA pursues recovery of that amount it could pose a fiscal challenge for the county that we will have to work hard to solve.
Another county issue that is in need of immediate action is completing the E911 project to upgrade all of the county’s 911 call centers. Erie County has been upgrading these centers with new technology to ensure the best response when calls for help come in. Funded through a state grant, the three-phase project began with larger towns to first upgrade centers that had the highest call volume. The county is supposed to be in phase three of the plan, but state funding has been diminished, leaving most of the county’s small towns and villages without the upgraded equipment. In the district I represent, many communities are impacted by this problem.
Towns and villages who have not received the upgrade are operating with outdated answering equipment. It is unacceptable that someone who makes a 911 call in a larger town will get an operator on the phone with better equipment and access to technology than someone who makes that same call in a smaller town. As legislators, we need to solve this problem and ensure that everyone has equal access to public safety and a response during an emergency.
The Legislature unanimously approved a resolution at the Feb. 21 session in support of efforts to receive the final Public Safety Answering Points Consolidation, Improvements and Enhancements grant, a total of $967,981, to complete these critical upgrades. I will continue to push for the immediate completion of this project and address this very serious public safety concern.
Anyone with questions or concerns about the above mentioned issues or other county matters, please contact my Legislative Office at 858-8850 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.