State of Erie County Address Text

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Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz held his state of the county address at the Albright Knox Art Gallery Wednesday, where he outlined his accomplishments and vision for the county's future.
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  State of the County AddressMarch 13, 2013 Remarks as prepared for delivery—  Good evening.I would like to start by thanking our Federal, State and County officials and ourleaders at the city, town and village levels for being here tonight and for yourservice to our community.I would also like to thank Director of Veterans Affairs Major Carlos Benitez andLegislator Tim Hogues for their assistance here tonight.Lastly, I would like to thank Leslie Zemsky for serving as our master of ceremony aswell as the entire board of directors and interim director Karen Spaulding of theAlbright Knox Art Gallery for being such gracious hosts.It was my pleasure to work with, and call former-Director Louis Grachos a friend andI look forward to working with incoming Director Janne Siren in the future. The Albright Knox is just one example of the abundance of riches we have in ErieCounty including: nationally renowned museums; an amazing philharmonicorchestra; landmarks from architectural giants; and, a thriving theater scene othercities would love to have. That’s just arts and culture. Listen to some of these accolades. This is what othersacross the country and around the world are saying about our region. We are:among the most affordable major U.S. housing markets; a top innovation metro anddestination for international visitors; in the top 10 cites for working mothers; and,one of the best places in America to live.And why is that? Because our local forefathers made the right choices, like investingin our community's assets, not just for the day but also for the future.And, that’s why I ran for county executive. Because I did not think the right choiceswere being made for our community. I believed we all deserved better.In 2011, the people of Erie County were presented with a clear choice of whatCounty government can do and what our community can be. The people spoke and said that county government is not automatically theproblem but can be part of the solution. 1   That county government should seek to provide programs and services that itsresidents demand as efficiently and effectively as possible.And, even in fiscally challenging times, county government must make smarttargeted investments across our community, which will pay big dividends in thefuture, rather than let our community crumble to disrepair. Today, I’d like to talk about the choices we’ve made based on that set of sharedvalues: from changing the tone of county government, to forging new partnerships,to foster real economic growth for the greater community—not just a select few.While there are many challenges to meet, the opportunities that exist going forwardare plentiful should we have the political will to make the right choices, thoughhard, over the wrong ones, however easy they may seem at the time.One of the first choices we made was to change the tone of County government. Wedid this by acknowledging that government is not a business and should not be runlike one. There are simply things that the private sector either can’t or won’t do. That’s precisely why government is here, to take on those tasks for the good of thecommunity even when it may not make the most ‘business sense’ to do so.We unite to care for the penniless and provide a safety net for those who havefallen; maintain common amenities such as parks and libraries; and create andmaintain a safe infrastructure with broad value for the benefit of all.In a government we represent people, not just taxpayers.County government serves an important role and I will continue to work to return itto its core mission: administer vital health, human, and public safety services, whilealso providing the quality of life programs residents demand as efficiently aspossible. That requires balancing the needed and wanted services and againsthaving the necessary resources to pay for them.Unfortunately, 90% of our annual budget is attributed to state and federalmandates—programs, services and other requirements that we have little or nocontrol over.But, what we can control is how we go about dealing with them. And myadministration has chosen to take a different path than in the past. We havechanged the tone by choosing to work cooperatively with our partners ingovernment.For example, instead of continually fighting with the U.S. Department of Justice andNY Commission of Correction over the various mandates they’ve forced upon usregarding conditions at the Holding Center and Jail, we chose a different path.My administration and the Sheriff decided to treat them as partners, workingtogether to make our jails safe for inmates and officers. And, because we have 2  chosen to take this new road, tremendous progress has been made, and willcontinue to be made.Another example would be the previously contentious relationship with the ErieCounty Fiscal Stability Authority since it was created in 2005. When I took office asCounty Executive, I believed this needed to change. The constant fighting didn’thelp the County, and while we may not always agree, we turned the relationshipfrom combative to cooperative.We have and will continue to work closely with the control board for the bettermentof Erie County, with the ultimate goal of their services no longer being necessary.I’d like to ask Chairman Jim Sampson and his fellow directors to stand up so we mayall thank them for their leadership and their assistance to the County.We’ve also had a similarly contentious relationship with ECMC, especiallyconcerning the County’s required subsidy payments. However, the days of numerous lawsuits are behind us now.I have worked cooperatively with ECMC, its Board and especially CEO Jody Lomeo,to help the County manage these payments, mitigating any negative budgetaryimpacts, without depriving the hospital of vital revenues so it can provide the bestcare possible, and will continue to do so.As I mentioned a moment ago, 90% of our budget is outside of our control, whilethe other 10% is made up of the discretionary services that our community valuesand wants. These are the programs and services that, as a candidate, I heard so much about:the rodent control program; “Operation PrimeTime,” the summer youth educationand anti-crime program; and, road and bridge construction, among others.And, while these programs are not mandated by law, I believe they are stillmandated—but by the people. I promised to ensure that these “people’smandates” were funded and, over the past year, I have lived up to that promise. The “people’s mandates” also include quality of life investments in our parks andcultural assets.We have an incredibly expansive parks system that offers the kind of free family funfor all seasons that make memories that last a lifetime. However, for too long ourparks were neglected. And, while I will never say they are in the best shape ever, Ican promise that under my administration they won’t be neglected and we will workto ensure they are in better condition than when I took office.And, that’s exactly what I’ve tasked our County Parks Department, led byCommissioner Troy Schinzel, to do. 3  In 2012, we invested in significant improvements like rebuilding shelters andbathrooms, repaving roads, purchasing maintenance equipment and restoringwalkways.Additionally, at Bennett Beach we finally tore down the wall—a remnant of an oldbathhouse that had become dangerous and a target for vandalism. We were told itwould never get done, but we rolled up our sleeves, cut through the red tape, andnow it is gone.A bit further north, we dealt with another eye sore; turning the old Ontario StreetBoat Launch into the new, environmentally friendly Black Rock Canal Park. And,while many individuals played a role in making it happen, one organization, theBlack Rock Canal Park Steering Committee, and its leader, Margaret Syzepaniec, arethe ones who deserve the credit for this new park.Margaret and her group are a perfect example of what I call “Citizen Advocates.” They could have stopped advocating for the park after they heard “no” for the firstor twenty-first time, but they didn’t. As a result, a gem is being polished on theNiagara River, which when completed, will be enjoyed for generations to come.Margaret, please stand up so we can thank you for your persistence and advocacy.We are also investing in our cultural assets, regardless of size. I believe investment in our arts and cultural assets should be no more optional thanfunding our parks, roads and bridges. Each one of these is an integral part of theinfrastructure of our community; some are steel and concrete, others are body andmind. The resident doesn’t need to ‘use’ the arts any more than the need to useevery single road or bridge or park supported by their tax dollars to derive a benefitfrom them thriving.Not only did we restore funding but we also restored a transparent and openprocess—the Erie County Arts and Cultural Advisory Board. This board, led byCatherine Schweitzer with representatives from the cultural, financial, legal andother communities, has been tasked with scrutinizing every application so we maymake decisions on who is worthy of public dollars based on need and merit alone. Thank you to the entire board for all the great work you’ve done this year andCatherine would you please stand up on their behalf.Another way we have changed the tone of county government and strengthenedour community is by ensuring a solid and healthy county library system.I believed it was important to restore the library’s funding to the level before recentcuts and moved all funding to its dedicated property tax levy. In doing so, itguaranteed all of the libraries’ funding without jumping through political hoops of the past. As a result, the professional librarians can do what they do best—provide agreat library experience for all of our residents. 4
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