State of the County Address
March 27, 2019
Remarks as prepared for delivery-
Good afternoon and thank you for joining me here.
Thank you to Tom Hyde for that warm welcome.
Thanks also to Reverend Mark Blue for leading us in prayer this afternoon. It's been my privilege to work with Rev. Blue on many different issues, and we are a better, fairer community because of his leadership.
Thanks also to the students from Hutch Tech Junior ROTC for leading us in the Pledge of Allegiance.
And thanks to our hosts, Dr. Janne Siren and the wonderful staff here at the Albright Knox Art Gallery. For over a century this institution has graced Erie County, bringing international acclaim to our region.
Much like Erie County, the Albright Knox is growing and the future is bright. An exciting new partnership with Jeffrey Gundlach will transform this institution, taking it to heights in the art world others can only dream of.
I am proud of the relationship we have built with the Albright Knox, and thank them for their commitment to fund even more public art in the future.
As you know, the Albright Knox has a big expansion plan. Previously Erie County committed $5 million to this expansion and this year we will release that commitment.
This is an investment in not just the Gallery but our community's future.
Arts and cultural institutions not only bring visitors and tourists to our region, they improve our quality of life.
Another attraction that does just that is the Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens.
The Botanical Gardens are owned by the people of Erie County, and recent multi-million dollar investments by the county have significantly improved the facility.
Also similar to the AKAG, they are planning for the future. The Gardens are growing and planning new exhibit spaces, classrooms and even a butterfly conservatory.
Our forefathers and mothers invested in these institutions so they could not only enjoy them, but we could too.
We have a similar obligation to ensure future generations can enjoy the AKAG, the Botanical Gardens, our library system, or many of our other cultural gems.
That is why I recently joined David Swarts, the Gardens' President and CEO, to announce Erie County will invest $2.5 million in the Botanical Gardens expansion project.
I've often spoken about the need to leave a better Erie County for the next generation, for those who will someday call these beautiful shores of Lake Erie their home.
These investments are just two ways we can do that.
We have an obligation to move our community - the whole of Erie County - forward so that everyone can benefit from the renaissance we are seeing.
Tonight, I am proud to say that we are moving our county forward and the state of Erie County is STRONG.
For example, when I took office as Erie County Executive in January 2012, unemployment in our region was at 8.9.
I am proud to say by the end of 2018 it had been reduced to 3.9%, the lowest end of year unemployment rate for Erie County in more than 4 decades.
At the same time, there are now 578,700 jobs in the Buffalo-Niagara metro region, 7,500 more than December 2017 and 27,000 more since 2013.
While we can't take credit for creating all of them, we can take credit for putting programs in place that helped.
For example, at the ECIDA, reforms I instituted have brought about a complete change in how projects are incentivized.
Before receiving a tax break businesses must agree to hire local construction workers on construction projects, pay their female employees the same as their male employees for similar work, and to have their taxes paid before seeking an incentive.
Furthermore, businesses that fail to live up to their job-creation promises will see their incentives taken back.
Incentives are no longer viewed as the "cherry on the top of the sundae" given to developers whose projects would have succeeded anyway.
Doing business in the "New Erie County" means business and developers have to play by the rules if they want a tax incentive, and according to the ECIDA business is looking up in Erie County:
From 2012-18, the ECIDA approved tax incentives for 140 projects. So how did we do?
Well those tax incentives spurred $2 billion in private sector investment, 11,098 good paying construction jobs were created, and 3,058 new jobs were created with an average hourly salary of $21.46.
This just proves we are getting a great return for our tax incentive investment: the creation of thousands of new jobs paying a living wage.
I thank my fellow members of the board of directors of the IDA and the staff for our combined efforts to move our community forward in a smart, responsible manner. Thank you.
Another example of how the behind the scenes work we are doing helps to create jobs is in the area of workforce development.
Programs at the Buffalo and Erie County Workforce Investment Board continue to connect jobseekers with employers in our region.
For example, the WIB provides Rapid Response services for workers affected by plant closures, has expanded its Career Pathways program to more job seekers and recently secured a $1.2 million federal grant to provide training for those seeking re-entry into the workforce.
The WIB is also powering our growing health care sector through the Healthcare Professional Opportunity Grant program, a unique program that trains low-income individuals for jobs in the health care field.
1,300 individuals have completed the training and about 1,000 are now employed.
And these programs are making a difference.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, since 2017 WNY's unemployment rate has been the sixth-most improved in the U.S. and programs like those at the WIB are a large part of that success.
My thanks to WIB Executive Director Heather Gresham and Workforce Development Consortium Director Lavon Stephens and their staff for the great work they are doing! Thank you.
Another example of how we were able to grow our local economy was to benefit from one of the largest economies in the world just 90 miles away.
When I took office in 2012, I vowed to re-connect Erie County to Toronto and southern Ontario.
Despite our shared border, neither New York nor any local government promoted an outreach effort to Canadian business prior to my administration's arrival in 2012. Only Invest Buffalo Niagara was working on growing our economy from foreign direct investment. Since then, our combined efforts have borne great fruit.
Together we've welcomed 45 Canadian companies to the Buffalo-Niagara Region who have invested more than 146 million dollars in WNY operations and 1,030 jobs.
I thank Invest Buffalo Niagara and the ECIDA for its great work in making this program a success. Thank you!
Canadian tourism is also boosting our economy. Visit Buffalo Niagara's research indicates that Canadians make more than 3 million cross border trips per year to WNY, spending in excess of $900 million annually.
Our relationship with southern Ontario is mutually beneficial one built on more than 200 years of peace and commerce between two great lands.
My administration remains committed to nurturing that relationship despite short-sighted and harmful trade policies emanating from our nation's capital.
Therefore, I hope you will join me and the Buffalo-Niagara Partnership in continuing to call upon the Trump Administration to end its tariffs against Canadian steel and aluminum products. No one is benefitting from these tariffs on either side of the border. No one.
Regardless of what happens in Washington, we will continue to invest in projects here that move our community forward. The redevelopment of the Bethlehem Steel site in Lackawanna is one such project.
In October 2018 we opened the newest section of the Shoreline Trail on the site, a 6,500-foot long, 10-foot wide stretch that runs from the City of Buffalo line to Dona Street in Lackawanna.
In addition to that, the first-ever public road on the Bethlehem site is now under construction.
The Dona Street extension is a $2.2 million project, funded entirely by Erie County, and involves the construction of an approximately 1,600 foot road on the site.
The completion of the Shoreline Trail and Dona Street extension build on years of other work at the site.
Creating shovel-ready business parks and continuing outreach to businesses looking to expand internationally are all part of building the New Erie County.
However, to truly move Erie County forward we must also promote business sectors that have long been underrepresented and unappreciated.
I am talking about businesses that have been in our community since its inception and produce a product that is 100% Erie County made - our local farm community.
Erie County's agricultural sector is a large part of our economic portfolio, yet that sector is often overlooked as a contributor to the New Erie County.
In recent years, farmer's markets have grown increasingly popular across Erie County and are providing ways to connect more county residents with healthy, wholesome local produce.
However, even as these efforts have borne fruit (so to speak) our farmland is under pressure from encroaching development.
Climate and industry changes are also adding pressure to our local farmers.
To help our farming community achieve its greatest potential, I am proposing an Office of Agriculture be created in our Department of Environment and Planning.
The primary goals of this Office will be to promote the long-term economic viability of farming and agribusiness in Erie County and to protect farmland from encroachment by non-agricultural uses.
The Office will also take the reins on the development and marketing of our new agribusiness park at the former Angola Airport to connect producers with businesses that rely on agricultural products.
Much like Batavia in Genesee County was turned around through the creation of agribusiness parks, we will do the same in the center of our produce growing region in southern Erie County.
The Office will also help rural towns and villages develop their own Agricultural and Farmland Protection Plan ("AFPP"), as Erie County has done, to ensure consistency with the NYS Agriculture and Market Law.
The Office will also be tasked with supporting polices that increase accessibility to local foods and food products, and raise awareness of our local agriculture by promoting farmer's markets in every community, especially the underserved areas.
In this way we will promote our local farmers and provide healthier eating options to all residents, especially those who reside in food deserts.
You see, our county is like a small state.
It is the same geographic size as Rhode Island, has a population greater than 5 states and includes distinct urban, suburban and rural communities.
All of these communities are important, and if the rising tide in Erie County is truly going to lift all boats, then we must support and advocate for all, including our agricultural sector as much as biotech, manufacturing, healthcare, energy, or any other sector.
Just as we work to promote our economy, we also work diligently to protect our public.
For example, we took strong action to protect public health, especially the health of minors, by passing the Public Health Protection Act of 2018.
It took a few years longer than I hoped to pass, but now that it is the law there are strong new restrictions on smoking around minors and in public places like bus stops, as well as eliminating tobacco sales in pharmacies in Erie County.
Government's most important responsibility is protecting the public's health; something my administration has never lost sight of.
The passage of the Act reaffirms our commitment to creating a healthier Erie County for all residents.
I thank Legislature Chairman Peter Savage, Legislator John Mills, and former legislator now-Assemblyman Pat Burke, for sponsoring the legislation and protecting our residents.
Another example of how we protect our constituents is our united effort to fight childhood lead poisoning. As you know, lead poisoning is an insidious disease. It is wholly preventable yet, if undetected, can cause permanent neurological damage to a child.
At my 2016 State of the County address I announced a major new initiative to combat lead poisoning.
I am proud to announce that because of the combined efforts of many, we are moving in the right direction, with 8 percent fewer lead poisoning cases in 2018 than in 2017 and 35 percent lower than 2010.
While we are far from done with this fight, I thank the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo, Congressman Brian Higgins, Mayor Byron Brown, and the members of the Common Council and Legislature for joining the fight and helping to reduce lead poisoning among our youngest constituents.
And just to show we are not yet done fighting, yesterday I was proud to stand with Erie County District Attorney John Flynn and Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein as we announced the prosecution of a local landlord who violated an order to not rent his lead-contaminated property.
Landlords in Erie County you are put on notice: if you violate a Health Department order we WILL prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law. We will not tolerate the poisoning of our most precious resource: our children.
Thank you to District Attorney Flynn and Commissioner Burstein for pursuing this prosecution.
This year we will be doing even more to promote the health and well-being of all county residents as we unveil a new Health and Human Services Plan: "Live Well Erie."
The new Plan will build on the success of our earlier "Initiatives for a Stronger Community," but unlike the prior plan, which focused on initiatives, this plan will focus on the theme of promoting lifelong health and wellness of all county residents.
To be fully unveiled later this year, Live Well Erie will improve lifelong health and wellness by ensuring every child in Erie County is given a chance to succeed, that we empower working families to reach their full potential, and finally support our seniors to ensure their golden years are indeed golden.
Here are just a few of the programs that Live Well Erie will include.
We will join with the National Association of Counties and the Pritzker Family Foundation in the National Collaborative for Infants and Toddlers to strengthen early childhood development and reduce the need for more expensive interventions later in life.
By joining this national collaborative, and further investing in early childhood programs such as our current partnership with Help Me Grow, we can lay the foundation for a healthy future for our youngest constituents during their most formative years.
To assist our working families reach their full potential, and as approved as part of the 2019 Erie County Budget, we will launch the Live Well Erie Mobile Services Van to take county services directly to residents in the community.
Because our county is so big, many residents struggle to access county services, and as part of Live Well Erie Program, the Departments of Social Services, Senior Services, Health, Veterans Affairs, and others will all be bringing their programs and services directly to county residents who need them to ensure that all live well.
To enhance our seniors' "golden years" Live Well Erie will implement a "Go & Dine Program," a new and innovative way to provide free nutritious meals to older adults at area restaurants while also combating the isolation and depression many seniors face by getting them out into our community.
There will be much more to report on Live Well Erie as we prepare to release the full plan later in 2019.
While we implement a number of new programs to promote our citizens' health, we will always act to protect them when others won't.
In 2017 I proposed Ruthie's Law, a multi-pronged measure that better protects nursing home residents and ensures their families and loved ones are provided the most current information in the case of a health emergency.
Sadly, this law became necessary after a nursing home resident died following a beating at the hands of another resident; her family, however, was not notified until hours after the beating had taken place of the extent of her injuries.
Unfortunately, the same nursing home was the site of another resident death last year, and then it came to light that this nursing home was in violation of several other health and safety ordinances.
So we had to act again, and last August I called for the nursing home to be put into receivership.
As I've said in the past, government exists to do the jobs the private sector can't, or won't do. If a nursing home isn't protecting its residents, we must.
Today I am happy to announce that since my call for receivership that facility has been closed and another one owned by the same owner has been transferred to a highly reputable operator.
This is just one example of how our Department of Senior Services, and county government overall, works every day to protect our seniors while promoting their health and well-being.
I am proud to be joined here today by Tim Hogues, formerly our Commissioner of Senior Services but now our Commissioner of Personnel, who was with me last August and worked tirelessly to protect the residents there.
Thank you Commissioner Hogues and the staff at Senior Services for all you do to protect seniors. Thank you!
Once again, county government works for ALL residents, not just those who happen to be paying property taxes at any given time, like a senior or a renter.
That's why we enacted the Erie County Fair Housing Law, adding prohibitions on discrimination in housing based on gender identity, disability, immigration and citizenship status, and source of income.
The cost of housing can be a tremendous hurdle to overcome for many individuals, and housing discrimination short-circuits the American Dream for too many.
I thank the county legislature lead by Chairman Peter Savage, Majority Leader April Baskin and others like Legislator Barbara Miller-Williams for supporting the law and for their strong signal that Erie County will not stand idly by and let our residents be discriminated against.
I also would like to thank and recognize the Chairman of the Fair Housing Alliance, Christopher Hull, for his leadership on this issue.
Chris has been an advocate for fair housing in the Town of Hamburg and countywide for years, and without his leadership and guidance this local law would not have passed.
I ask Chris to stand so we can all acknowledge his work. Thank you Chris Hull!
In addition to protecting our citizens and promoting their health and welfare, we are also investing in the infrastructure we all own.
At our world class parks we will continue to upgrade shelters and bathrooms, and perform other tasks that make your visit to your parks more enjoyable.
Our Park Rangers will continue to lead packed tours of outdoors enthusiasts and this weekend will join our forestry staff for Maple Syrup Days at our forest in Sardinia.
Newly-planted chestnut trees are gracing the hills at Chestnut Ridge Park, and community celebrations such as Fall Fest, Santa Land, Winterfest and Maple Syrup Days are bringing big crowds to our parks.
And just recently we completed the construction of the Magic Carpet Ski Lift at Emery Park, bringing new life to one of Erie County's oldest and most-loved ski hills.
We'll be doing even more as this year as we begin implementing the Parks Master Plan which is a blueprint for the improvement and preservation for our over 10,000 acres of park land.
Additionally it is my intention to re-institute a popular winter attraction at Chestnut Ridge Park.
Starting next December we will bring back skiing on the hill at Chestnut Ridge, and to accomplish that we will reinstall a tow rope that (years ago) helped skiers get back up the hill.
Just like our forefathers and mothers invested in our arts, they invested in our parks. We now have an obligation to continue that investment, and I thank the members of the legislature for supporting these endeavors. Thank you!
Another area where we have provided strong leadership is investing in our roads and bridge infrastructure.
Contrary to what my critics say, the real facts show that my administration's commitment to improving our county's infrastructure is undiminished and growing every year.
If my critics were honest, they'd acknowledge that the $419 million in combined capital and Highway Division operating funding we've invested in our roads and bridges since 2012 has had a significant impact.
Yes, you heard that right: a combined $419 million in capital and Department of Public Works' Highway Division's operating funds.
Since 2012 our Public works department has done a lot because our road inventory is big: Erie County has more lane miles of roads than do the states of Hawaii, Delaware and Rhode Island.
The county inventory also includes 290 bridges of greater than 20 feet and around 420 culverts.
As you can see on the screen, every year during my administration our public works department has been hard at work.
From hundreds of miles of oil and chip roads, to major reconstruction projects like East Robinson Road and Goodrich Roads, to many mill and overlay projects across the county, we continue to invest in our road and bridge infrastructure.
I've heard from many Legislators, like Legislators John Bruso and Kevin Hardwick that more work needs to be done.
This year we are planning to invest more than $40 million in additional highway work around Erie County, with projects including Abbott Road in Orchard Park, Baseline Road in Grand Island, East and West Road in West Seneca, Old Lakeshore Road in Evans, and Lake Avenue in Blasdell, just to name a few.
With this year's work included, my administration will have invested nearly $500 million....half a billion dollars....in infrastructure investments over eight years.
So don't let anyone tell you we aren't fixing our roads!
Our Public Works crews are a vital part of the Erie County workforce, bearing the burden in the heat of summer and the dead cold of winter. From paving to plowing and back again, they work hard in all seasons of the year and deserve the thanks of all county residents.
That hard work ethic was especially on display during this past harsh winter. Whenever a storm approached, Erie County led the way in preparing for the storm and coordinating a countywide response.
To quote a great American president, Barack Obama, "if the people cannot trust their government to do the job for which it exists - to protect them and to promote their common welfare - all else is lost."
Our Public Works Department, along with the Departments of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, Health, Parks and the Sheriff's Office did exactly that when a blizzard struck in late January.
Conditions were so bad we had to take our plow trucks off the road for their own safety, but it didn't stop me from sharing the most accurate, latest information with our citizens through social media.
As always, we manned the emergency operations center to lead the community through the storm and Erie County personnel were on the ground round the clock and ready to assist wherever needed.
And we were back at the EOC on February 24 when a wind storm bringing hurricane-force gusts of over 75 mph crashed into WNY, ushering in a combination of rain and then lake effect snow to make matters worse.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of trees were destroyed and more than 50,000 were without power at the height of the storm. Thankfully, there were no fatalities or even serious injuries associated with the storm.
Once again, my thanks go to the personnel from all county departments and offices who worked together to keep residents safe and informed, as well as all local law enforcement, first responders, public works and utility personnel.
Your efforts are greatly appreciated! Thank you!
I would also like to thank our friends at Deaf Access Services for helping us get information to hearing-impaired residents during the recent emergencies and they are working with us again tonight.
You'll see them with us whenever there's another emergency, or in this case a major address to deliver. Thank you Cat Hardesty and your colleagues at Deaf Access Services!
All these crazy storms appear to be the "new normal" for our weather. In fact since I took office as county executive we have been confronted with 3 official blizzards and the November 2014 superstorm that dumped 7 feet of snow on some areas.
To give you some perspective, prior to my taking office the region faced 3 blizzards during the previous 4 decades combined.
Friends, there can be no denial that climate change is real, and that its effects are being felt here in Erie County.
The challenge of our time is to face that fact and do ALL we can to preserve and protect this planet. While others may reject the concept of climate change I do not and neither should anyone else.
This land, this water, this Erie County is the only one we get. We need to protect it.
Once again Erie County government is stepping up and leading the way.
We are reducing our own greenhouse gas emissions and helping other municipalities and businesses do the same.
I am proud to say that Erie County has already met the goals of the Paris Agreement, but we aren't standing still.
We are continuing on a path that will reduce county greenhouse gas emissions significantly as we strive for 100% renewable energy.
It's a tall order, as Erie County maintains a municipal infrastructure of over 220 buildings, 20 of which have over 3.5 million square feet, as well as New Era Field and the Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens, which must be kept at tropical temperatures even when it is minus 10 degrees outside.
However, we do not shy away from these challenges.
Our recently-completed Climate Action and Sustainability Plan details ways Erie County will further reduce greenhouse gas emissions created by county operations.
Additionally, our partners at the WNY Sustainable Business Roundtable are growing a local business community that is not just sustainable but committed to a cleaner Erie County for all.
Clean business practices make good sense for a number of reasons and I thank the members of the Sustainable Business Roundtable for their commitment to our community.
We are implementing these programs because there is no time to waste. Climate change has arrived and will continue to affect Erie County, our country and the world.
We have an obligation to promote a cleaner and greener planet so let's continue to do our part to leave a better, cleaner Erie County for all.
Another area where we are trying to move Erie County forward is to reduce the number of school and special taxing districts in our county.
As you may remember, last year I announced an effort to convene meetings of school administrators and citizens to examine the idea of school district consolidation, and greater shared services between districts.
While I am not surprised there was pushback by some districts, our region is notorious for fighting change, we did move the discussion forward. This year I will be convening a shared services panel of local cities, towns, villages and school districts in an attempt to save taxpayers money.
We know this can be accomplished. Preliminary discussions we've had with district representatives show us some will benefit from savings on utility and healthcare expenses by partnering with Erie County.
51% of all Erie County residents' taxes are school taxes, so it's a good idea to look for savings there.
Reducing school district expenses will help create a better county, but there's still more to do to ensure an equal playing field for all across our community.
To make sure that every county resident has an opportunity to be a part of the economic renaissance in the "New Erie County," we must redouble our efforts to build a more inclusive, connected county.
We can begin "connecting the unconnected" by building out broadband capacity in underserved urban areas and rural areas with little coverage.
Increasing high speed access to the Internet boosts our economy, increases community engagement, and equalizes opportunity for all county residents, not just those lucky enough to already have access to a quality broadband provider.
We have given Cable and Internet providers more than enough time to fully build out their systems in Erie County.
Unfortunately they have not, leaving much of Erie County with access to only a single broadband provider, and many rural residents without true broadband internet access.
In 2017 the county completed a broadband study that starkly showed the limits of the service that currently exists and also gathered input from county residents on their broadband needs.
71% of county residents indicated they were not happy with their internet service.
The call for more competition, lower costs, and better speeds was strong.
In just the past month, there have been multiple additional reports about the poor state of broadband service in Erie County and legislator Tim Meyers has led the call that something must be done. I agree.
Children need better Internet access to pursue their education.
Businesses need access to the highest speed to compete in a global marketplace.
And there are countless other ways in which better broadband access would improve the lives of county residents.
Full speed Internet access is not a luxury, it is an essential utility.
If our region is to remain competitive it must have a contemporary communications infrastructure that offers equal access to all county residents regardless of where they live.
Because the private sector has failed us, we as a government must act.
We will do that by laying the ground work for a modern countywide open-access broadband fiber service network - "Erie Net."
Erie Net will offer high speed access to all communities in Erie County. It will reach into the corners of our urban areas and suburbs that have no residential fiber internet options.
In total some 360 miles of additional fiber would be laid, connecting government buildings, libraries, school, and any interested business.
Erie County would lease access to this network at favorable rates to regional internet service providers who would lay the "final mile" coverage to residential communities, expanding broadband coverage through Erie County.
We must do this. That's why I am proposing the county invest $20 million to build out "Erie Net."
Erie Net will lower the barrier of entry for service providers, and create competition and choice for both business and residential consumers.
While Erie County works to ensure a better broadband internet market for our region, we will also work with the private industry to ensure we are ready for the technology of the future, including 5G wireless.
That's why I am calling for passage by the legislature of a Local Law to establish reasonable, consumer-friendly standards for the citing of small-cell wireless towers in Erie County. I want to make it as easy as possible for cellular carriers to bring this important technology to Erie County, and I will be calling on them to ensure that ALL county residents get access to this important technology.
If we do not do invest in Erie Net and make sure our communications infrastructure is 5G ready some will be left behind. In the New Erie County, we are not leaving anyone behind.
In addition to ensuring our residents are given every opportunity to advance in today's modern world, we will also protect them as much as possible from fraud in their consumer affairs.
Last year, led by Paula Trimper our Bureau of Weights and Measures was instrumental in the apprehension of interstate criminals who were using skimmers to steal credit card information.
The brazen thieves struck at a number of area gas stations, installing their devices on pumps in a matter of seconds while attendants were distracted inside. In this way, unsuspecting patrons' personal information was stolen by thieves using Bluetooth technology.
While crime has gone high-tech, thankfully we were one step ahead.
The Bureau regularly visits area gas stations to check pumps for signs of tampering, or opening of the pump cabinets, and uses "Bluesleuth" technology to detect the presence of possible illegal skimmers that may have been installed.
This crime can be detected in a matter of moments, and thanks to the Bureau's work gas station owners and consumers were quickly made aware of the breach and the criminals were apprehended.
It's just another way that county government is working every day to protect our residents.
Greg Reusch, the Bureau's Deputy County Sealer, is working with his partners in law enforcement on the frontlines of this fight every day.
Let's recognize Greg and thank him for the great work he and his colleagues at the Bureau are doing.
Protecting consumers' personal information is becoming more important every day, as additional breaches and criminal misdeeds occur.
To better protect our residents in their banking and consumer affairs, I will work with the Legislature to pass a new local law establishing an Office of Consumer Protection.
This local law will amend the Erie County Charter to create the office under the Department of Public Advocacy, move the Division of Weights and Measures to this new office and create a new Director of Consumer Affairs position to oversee the entire operation.
While the Department of Public Works has done an admirable job overseeing the Division of Weights and Measures for many years, I believe it is time this important Division becomes its own office, as it is in many other large counties in New York State.
Increasing our vigilance at gas stations, with increased visits and with more skimmer-detecting devices, is just one of the ways this office will work to protect consumer's information.
Similar to other NYS counties such as Nassau, Erie County's Office of Consumer Protection will create and maintain a registry of all Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) that are not located on bank property.
Our partners in law enforcement have advised us that non-bank ATMs located at gas stations, bowling alleys, restaurants, and other locations are more likely to be used for criminal purposes.
Unsuspecting consumers are often the victims of theft or fraud while using these non-bank terminals, and they often don't know where to turn when after using a non-bank ATM.
To remedy that, I am proposing that under a separate new law, any non-bank merchant who operates an ATM in any location will have to register that ATM with the Office of Consumer Protection.
This registration will ensure the safety of customers transacting business at these machines, as we will know who owns it and is responsible for its security, and will also assist law enforcement with their investigation if a crime does occur.
The Office of Consumer Protection will also be a resource and advocate for consumers, keeping our residents fully informed of their rights and the responsibilities of businesses.
For instance, the office will promote the 1997 scanner accuracy law, which mandates that merchants who neglect to display the accurate price on goods they sell are subject to a fine of ten times the price of those goods.
Did you know that if you overpay for an item due to that item being incorrectly priced on a store shelf, or not priced at all, you are due a refund of ten times that item's price?
That goes for every single individual product on the store's shelf that is incorrectly marked. Most consumers don't, almost all new merchants don't, and I bet you most of the people in this room didn't know that.
Recent trips by our weights and measures staff to newly opened establishments show many retailers don't know the law either, and they have been fined accordingly.
That's why in the 2019 Erie County Budget, I fought for the addition of two new scanner accuracy positions for the Division of Weights and Measures but we need to do more - we need a separate Office of Consumer Protection to better protect our citizens.
In conjunction with this new office, we will reinstitute the currently inactive County Consumer Protection Committee to resume its former charter-mandated tasks.
Among these are encouraging business and industry within the county to maintain honest and fair business practices and increasing consumer awareness through the development of educational programs on consumer affairs.
I thank our good friend, the Honorable Judge Penny Wolfgang, for her past work on this Committee and for urging the Committee's repaneling. It will be done, your honor.
This new Office and the reformed Committee will offer the protections consumers need to feel secure in their transactions, wherever in Erie County those transactions occur.
Now just as it is important to protect our citizens from consumer fraud, we also need to count everyone during the 2020 U.S. Census.
The census is the best way our government has of determining not only the number of people here, but where they are, who they are, and a variety of other information about them.
Very importantly, an accurate census count has very direct financial impacts on Erie County.
Did you know that every person who is NOT counted in the census represents a loss of $2,600 a year in federal funding for Erie County, EVERY YEAR FOR TEN YEARS?
That's a loss of $26,000 in federal funding over ten years if just one person is missed in the census. If 1,000 residents are not counted, Erie County loses $26 million dollars in federal resources over 10 years. It also means loss of representation in Congress to other areas that are more accurately counted.
To ensure everyone in Erie County is counted, last year I ordered our departments to prepare a Local Update of Census Address Report, or LUCA as it is known, to provide the Census Bureau the latest information on all known addresses of residents in our county.
Our work identified more than 3,000 addresses the Census Bureau did not know about and which will be included when Census workers hit the streets next year.
If two people lived at each of these addresses, and the Census Bureau did not count anyone at each address, the county would lose at least $15,600,000 annually or $156 million over 10 years.
Think about what that additional money could do for our community.
Additionally, to ensure everyone is counted, I will sign an Executive Order empanelling a Complete Count Committee to coordinate an accurate census and promote and create awareness of the census in all our communities, including the Seneca and Tuscarora nations and communities where English is not the native language.
We owe it to ourselves to take every measure to guarantee a fair census, a count that correctly reports every man, woman, and child in Erie County.
To do otherwise is to shortchange ourselves and cut off our fair share of funding to which we are entitled and weaken the representation we are due.
While we fight to ensure everyone is counted, we also extend our heartfelt gratitude to the men and women who've fought and served for us.
Our Office of Veterans Services is an always-available resource and we will now provide support to veterans in business with a Veteran Owned Business policy.
By teaming up with the Division of Purchase, Erie County will now identify Veteran Owned Businesses in its vendor applications.
This new initiative created by Executive Order will allow Erie County to be more inclusive to all honorably discharged veterans.
Not only will this make it easier for veterans to do business with Erie County, it will make veteran-owned businesses more visible to other potential bidders who also support veterans and want to do business with them.
I thank Legislator April Baskin for her focus on this issue, and our Offices of Veterans Services and Purchasing for researching the idea and preparing for its implementation. Thank you!
The key to all of our recent accomplishments is by working together - cooperating with one another - to get things done.
Yes, we have accomplished much but there is more work to do.
Now is not the not time to rest on our laurels but to work even harder to ensure this great new renaissance is felt by all.
We can never be as strong a community as we want if neighborhoods and people are left behind.
As I stated, we will leave no one behind in the New Erie County.
I hope you will join me in these new endeavors to create the best Erie County we can be. I know if you do the best is yet to come.
Thank you, may God Bless You and Erie County.
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