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From the county executive: State of the county celebrates success and addresses challenges

HAMBURG — The following guest column was submitted by Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.

On Feb. 26, I was honored to be joined by various community leaders and concerned residents as I delivered my 2014 State of the County address before a standing-room-only crowd.

The address struck a balance between highlighting many successes from the first two years of my administration and also acknowledging the serious challenges facing our community, including widespread poverty.

The successes were many. Among them, the county’s response to the Blizzard of 2014; a substantial increase in Erie County’s public health emergency preparedness score; a successful resolution to the “October Storm” audit, saving Erie County approximately $48 million; budgets that held the line on taxes; increased investments in infrastructure and a sharpened focus on intermunicipal cooperation when completing projects; and real reform at the Erie County Industrial Development Agency to protect taxpayer dollars, if companies do not live up to their promises.

Add falling unemployment, a robust farmland protection plan and progress in many aspects of my “Initiatives for a Smart Economy” and you will agree that there were a lot of highlights.

Challenges facing Erie County were also a part of the address. We need to work together to cut down on the 1,044 special taxing districts in Erie County. Duplicative layers of government waste taxpayer resources and should be eliminated where possible; we should not be creating new districts.

Another challenge is real pay equity between the sexes. Statistics show that women earn only 77 percent of the salary as men do, for the same work. This is discrimination, and I am calling on the ECIDA and town-level IDAs to pass policies requiring applicants to pay their female employees the same as their male employees, for similar positions.

Elsewhere, we have acted to improve Child Protective Services by adding more caseworkers, strengthening supervisory supports and creating partnerships with schools and hospitals, to extend services to critical recipients, but we must do more through substantive reform of CPS law.

I will be proposing legislation to strengthen the penalties for abuse, grant CPS workers access to criminal and other vital records, and many other proposals too numerous to name here. CPS law, created in 1973, has not changed much, and is insufficient to deal with the issues of today. It must be amended.

The 2014 State of the County address also clearly identified the effect poverty is having in Erie County. A total of 14 percent of county residents live in poverty; we must reduce this figure, if we are to truly grow.

As such, I unveiled my new initiative to strengthen fragile families, “Initiatives for a Stronger Community.” This wide-ranging health and human services plan is designed to put people first – to “protect people,” not just taxpayers – and give them the tools they need, to take care of themselves and create a sense of hope for the future. By doing so, we will strengthen the entire community.

I am proud to say that government is working here in Erie County, and the results speak for themselves.
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