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2013 State of Erie County Address

On Wednesday, March 13, 2013, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz delivered the State of Erie County address at the Albright Knox Art Gallery.

Remarks as prepared for delivery—

Good evening.

I would like to start by thanking our Federal, State and County officials and our leaders at the city, town and village levels for being here tonight and for your service to our community.

I would also like to thank Director of Veterans Affairs Major Carlos Benitez and Legislator Tim Hogues for their assistance here tonight.

Lastly, I would like to thank Leslie Zemsky for serving as our master of ceremony as well as the entire board of directors and interim director Karen Spaulding of the Albright Knox Art Gallery for being such gracious hosts. 

It was my pleasure to work with, and call former-Director Louis Grachos a friend and I 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 Erie County including: nationally renowned museums; an amazing philharmonic orchestra; landmarks from architectural giants; and, a thriving theater scene other cities would love to have.

That’s just arts and culture.  Listen to some of these accolades.  This is what others across 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 and destination 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 investing in 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 choices were 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 what County government can do and what our community can be. 

The people spoke and said that county government is not automatically the problem but can be part of the solution. 

That county government should seek to provide programs and services that its residents demand as efficiently and effectively as possible. 

And, even in fiscally challenging times, county government must make smart targeted investments across our community, which will pay big dividends in the future, 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 shared values: from changing the tone of county government, to forging new partnerships, to fostering real economic growth for the greater community—not just a select few. 

While there are many challenges to meet, the opportunities that exist going forward are plentiful should we have the political will to make the right choices, though hard, 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. We did this by acknowledging that government is not a business and should not be run like 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 the community 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 have fallen; maintain common amenities such as parks and libraries; and create and maintain 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 it to its core mission:  administer vital health, human, and public safety services, while also providing the quality of life programs residents demand as efficiently as possible.  That requires balancing the needed and wanted services against having the necessary resources to pay for them.

Unfortunately, 90% of our annual budget is attributed to state and federal mandates—programs, services and other requirements that we have little or no control over. 

But, what we can control is how we go about dealing with them.  And my administration has chosen to take a different path than in the past. We have changed the tone by choosing to work cooperatively with our partners in government.

For example, instead of continually fighting with the U.S. Department of Justice and NY Commission of Correction over the various mandates they’ve forced upon us regarding conditions at the Holding Center and Jail, we chose a different path. 

My administration and the Sheriff decided to treat them as partners, working together to make our jails safe for inmates and officers.  And, because we have chosen to take this new road, tremendous progress has been made, and will continue to be made. 

Another example would be the previously contentious relationship with the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority since it was created in 2005.  When I took office as County Executive, I believed this needed to change. The constant fighting didn’t help the County, and while we may not always agree, we turned the relationship from combative to cooperative.

We have and will continue to work closely with the control board for the betterment of 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 may all thank them for their leadership and their assistance to the County. 

We’ve also had a similarly contentious relationship with ECMC, especially concerning 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 budgetary impacts, without depriving the hospital of vital revenues so it can provide the best care possible, and will continue to do so.  

As I mentioned a moment ago, 90% of our budget is outside of our control, while the other 10% is made up of the discretionary services that our community values and 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 education and anti-crime program; and, road and bridge construction, among others.

And, while these programs are not mandated by law, I believe they are still mandated—but by the people.  I promised to ensure that these “people’s mandates” 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 and cultural assets. 

We have an incredibly expansive parks system that offers the kind of free family fun for all seasons that make memories that last a lifetime.  However, for too long our parks were neglected.  And, while I will never say they are in the best shape ever, I can promise that under my administration they won’t be neglected and we will work to ensure they are in better condition than when I took office. 

And, that’s exactly what I’ve tasked our County Parks Department, led by Commissioner Troy Schinzel, to do. 

In 2012, we invested in significant improvements like rebuilding shelters and bathrooms, repaving roads, purchasing maintenance equipment and restoring walkways.  

Additionally, at Bennett Beach we finally tore down the wall—a remnant of an old bathhouse that had become dangerous and a target for vandalism.  We were told it would never get done, but we rolled up our sleeves, cut through the red tape, and now it is gone. 

A bit further north, we dealt with another eye sore; turning the old Ontario Street Boat Launch into the new, environmentally friendly Black Rock Canal Park.  And, while many individuals played a role in making it happen, one organization, the Black Rock Canal Park Steering Committee, and its leader, Margaret Syzepaniec, are the 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 first or twenty-first time, but they didn’t. As a result, a gem is being polished on the Niagara 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 than funding our parks, roads and bridges.  Each one of these is an integral part of the infrastructure of our community; some are steel and concrete, others are body and mind. The resident doesn’t need to ‘use’ the arts any more than the need to use every single road or bridge or park supported by their tax dollars to derive a benefit from them thriving. 

Not only did we restore funding but we also restored a transparent and open process—the Erie County Arts and Cultural Advisory Board.  This board, led by Catherine Schweitzer with representatives from the cultural, financial, legal and other communities, has been tasked with scrutinizing every application so we may make 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. 

Another way we have changed the tone of county government and strengthened our 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 recent cuts and moved all funding to its dedicated property tax levy.  In doing so, it guaranteed 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 a great library experience for all of our residents.

Now, I think you all would agree that another regional asset important to our economy and critical to the fabric and collective identity of our community is the Buffalo Bills.

That’s why from day one of my administration we worked tirelessly to negotiate a new long term stadium lease with the Buffalo Bills and I was proud to announce the new 10-year deal this past December.

It’s a fair deal for state and local taxpayers.  One reached because all parties involved were willing to compromise. Moreover, it’s a deal that will keep the team here in Buffalo today, tomorrow, and also for years to come by preparing for the possibility of a new stadium.

I thank my County team; the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and their team; and the entire Bills organization, starting with owner Mr. Wilson and President and CEO Russ Brandon for their commitment to the region not only for today but for the future.

Another choice we made was to change the tone of County government, internally. 

While some people believe County government is part of the problem and treat the County workforce as an enemy, I believe our dedicated and hard-working civil servants are actually assets. 

Unfortunately, it seems like you only hear about county issues when something goes wrong.  But in reality, every day, our County workforce is making a difference in our community and often they go above and beyond the normal call with very little recognition.

For example, I’d like to take a moment and tell you about an employee that embodies that effort.

Last summer, Child Protective Services was made aware of a 17 month old child that had been brought to the ER with a broken arm—the second within a short period of time.  CPS followed standard protocol, meaning an employee went to the hospital, interviewed the parent and medical staff and was provided with a seemingly plausible explanation from both that this was an accidental injury from a fall. 

The next day, the case was assigned to a Shadia Rodriguez, a sex abuse/serious injury team worker, for continued investigation.  While it would not have been unusual under state rules for Shadia to forgo immediate face-to-face follow up with the family, she felt uneasy and chose to visit immediately. 

Upon arrival Shadia observed the child to have new injuries and called 9-1-1 to have the child immediately returned to the ER where it was discovered that those injuries were serious and life-threatening.  The child was admitted to the ICU and eventually required surgery. 

Shadia would have been completely within the norm to have forgone immediate contact, but instead chose to go above and beyond the norm. As a result, this child is still alive today. 

Shadia, on behalf of myself and all Erie County residents, please stand up so we may thank you for taking that extra effort, saving that child’s life, and representing the great work of our entire dedicated workforce.

In addition to changing the tone of county government, I believe I was also elected to maintain fiscal discipline and apply the skills I used as your Comptroller.

And, while it is clear that we’ve made tremendous progress since the days of “Red” and “Green” budgets, we still have work to do.

The fact is, the County’s financial outlook wasn’t quite as ‘rosy’ as we were constantly told.

We had serious issues in 2012 to address, including: un-funded or underfunded ongoing construction projects; dozens of open lawsuits that had been delayed as long as possible; lapses in nearly every single employee labor contract; and, others.

Despite these challenges, we expect to end 2012 with a modest but important budget surplus of approximately $4.7 million.  And, we were able to achieve this through smart spending, sound fiscal management and even implementing a few good ideas I had as Comptroller.

For example, as Comptroller, I issued a report examining Erie County’s Medicaid Anti-Fraud Procedures and found, while the County actively worked to prevent waste, fraud and abuse of Medicaid by recipients, we did absolutely nothing when it came to abusive Medicaid providers. 

The Government Accountability Office believes about 10-15 percent of the program’s total spending can be attributed to fraud and abuse from providers, not recipients. This means, we’ve been focusing on the pennies, while the dollars have been walking out the door.     

Federal, State and County governments combined spend about $1 billion a year on Medicaid in Erie County, with our local share at about $219 million.  Just do the math.  That means $100 to $150 million is potentially lost to waste, fraud and abuse each year—$25 million of which are local dollars.

I promised to take action if elected, and I have. 

Through a partnership with New York State, we have created the Office of the Erie County Medicaid Inspector General, which has the sole purpose of rooting out this provider-level waste, fraud and abuse.  And, we were able to do it with zero County cost. 

The Office has already completed 4 audits that we believe include significant findings against providers and submitted them for the State’s review.  I have a feeling we’re going to be hearing a lot about this unit and the tax dollars they are saving in the coming years.

After Medicaid, the next largest item putting a squeeze on our yearly County budget is health care costs that are rising at an unsustainable rate. 

As I noted earlier, we’ve chosen to treat our County workforce with the respect they deserve.  And, part of that is realizing having eight of nine labor unions with lapsed contracts is a significant problem.  

A priority has been to come to the table and work to negotiate new contracts that are fair to both our employees and the taxpayers. 

Recently, we successfully ratified new contracts with the two unions representing our County’s jail facilities.  In exchange for modest cost of living adjustments, employees have agreed to pay a percentage of their health care costs both while working and after retirement, when previously they enjoyed 100% County-funded health insurance.   As a result, the County will save tens of millions of dollars in reduced health care costs in the long term.  

I commend the members of the Teamsters and CSEA correctional units who worked with my administration to make reasonable compromises that both sides could live with.

Thank you.

After being elected, I reminded my staff, though we just came off of a long and difficult campaign the hard part was just beginning: governing.  Governing is about choices.  We must choose as an administration but also as a community what we want out of county government and what we will do to achieve those goals.   

My 2013 Budget proposal was filled with such choices, some more difficult than others.  But all of them represented my beliefs and values and the role that I, and the people of this community, believe County government should play.

In 2011, I heard the message loud and clear:  the “people’s mandates” are just as important as those passed down to us by State and Federal governments.  The public expects to get something out of their tax dollars.  And, I agree.

No one wants to propose or vote for a property tax increase, but it was an option of last resort.  It was the only responsible way to ensure a balanced budget without sacrificing the programs and services the community values.

Several legislators stated that it was their priority to avoid a property tax increase at all costs.  I attempted to compromise but, every time I did, I was met with either a stone wall or new draconian demands. Looking back on it now, I don’t think they were interested in compromising at all.   

Instead, they chose to make cuts on paper that eliminated the tax increase but did nothing to reduce our actual expenses.  In essence, they kept all the costs, while cutting the revenue we needed to pay for them.  You just cannot have it both ways.

Now you don’t have to take my word for it. Let’s look at what the independent Control Board said recently.

As part of the Control Board’s legislation we are required to submit our proposed budget and 4-year plan and any revisions made to it.  Last month, we submitted our revised Plan, which was approved by the Control Board.  

Yet, in approving the Plan, the Board confirmed millions of dollars of budget gaps do exist for 2013 and beyond, gaps which did not exist in my Proposed Budget and prior plan submitted last October. The Board called on county leaders to work together to fix these holes.   I echo their sentiment and declare my willingness to foster such cooperation.

I have already laid a number of alternatives on the table, none of which are the politically easy thing to do.  Some of my colleagues in County government have called these budget alternatives ‘threats.’  These aren’t threats; they’re math. 

And, the numbers don’t lie: we have structural budget holes and they must be closed.  If there’s no political willingness by County Legislators to raise revenue, and by independent elected officials to reduce costs and live within their budgets, then there is no other option: meaningful and substantial cuts to discretionary spending must be done. 

While, I have no interest in seeing such cuts come to fruition, what can’t be an option is to continue to ignore the issue or pass another structurally unbalanced budget.  That’s what happened in the years leading up to the “Red-Green” fiscal crisis. 

The people of our community deserve better than a reprise of that time.

Folks, compromise isn’t a dirty word, but it can only be achieved if all sides are willing to give a little for the greater good.

This will be a challenge, no doubt; but it WILL NOT prevent us from moving forward and building upon the foundation of our successes over the past year.  We’re going to find new and creative ways to make County government more effective and more efficient in delivering quality services for our residents. 

Let me give you an example of an initiative we will be moving forth with this year for the betterment of our residents’ health.

At the same time that Chemung County Executive Tom Santulli was opening a new Priority Community Healthcare Center and saving county taxpayers $2 million in the first year alone—clinics were being closed here in Erie County. These clinics were a cost effective way to provide desperately needed primary care to an underserved part of our community. 

And, while as Comptroller I couldn’t do anything about these clinics being closed then; I am proud today to announce, later this year, we will be opening a new primary, dental and mental health clinic located at the former Matthew Gajewski Clinic on Buffalo’s east side.

Erie County residents, whose only option may have been to visit a costly ER will now have access to a “one-stop shop” for quality and affordable health care.  The investment we make today on this clinic will pay big dividends for our future by improving the community’s health while reducing long-term healthcare costs. 

This is a huge undertaking, but that’s why we’re not doing this alone.  And, it is all thanks to the incredible work by Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein and the collaborative spirit shown by our respected partners:  Catholic Health Services President Joe McDonald; UB Dental School Dean Michael Glick; and, Lake Shore Mental Health’s Dr. Howard Hitzel. 

Would you please stand up and be recognized for your role in helping us not only reduce this burden but also in changing and even saving people’s lives.

Thank you.

We’ve also chosen to take advantage of a creative solution to a problem that plagued our community for decades: our incredibly high number of vacant, abandoned and dilapidated properties.

The blight caused by these properties reduces our quality of life, makes neighborhoods more dangerous and robs the County of tens of millions of dollars in valuable tax revenues. 

And it doesn’t just impact Buffalo.  It’s a problem in our other cities, our suburbs and rural village centers.  A countywide problem, calls for a countywide solution.   And that solution is the creation of one of New York State’s first Land Banks.

This Land Bank is transforming the way vacant and abandoned properties are dealt with by creating a coordinated structure to return the properties to productive use. Instead of squabbling over turf, we have come together to get vacant properties back onto the tax rolls.  A fiscally responsible solution that not only stabilizes neighborhoods, but also generates revenue for the County.

This was only possible because of an incredible display of cooperation rarely seen in our community; one that included all of our 44 municipalities—and only possible because of the tireless work of Commissioner of Environment and Planning Maria Whyte.

Strong leadership by our mayors of Buffalo, Lackawanna and Tonawanda: Byron Brown, Geoff Szymanski and Ron Pilozzi. And, especially Cheektowaga Supervisor Mary Holtz, Brant Supervisor Len Pero, Angola Mayor Hub Frawley, LISC and the WNY Law Center.

We’d like to thank you for your collaborative efforts to address a costly problem that has been crippling our neighborhoods and destabilizing our finances for far too long.  We look forward to the exciting work of the Land Bank in the year ahead.  Will everyone please stand up so we can properly thank you for all you have done?

We’ve talked about the choices we’ve made in the past year; now let’s talk about our plans for the future. 

The stars seem to be aligning for Buffalo and Western New York; we are overflowing with positive opportunities. 

Sound leadership in Albany has yielded exciting change: on-time, balanced budgets; the formation of the Regional Economic Development Councils; and, Governor Cuomo’s commitment of the “Buffalo Billion” to revive the region’s long-stagnant economy.

Downtown Buffalo is in the midst of a building boom. And, neighborhood leaders throughout our community are successfully reviving local commercial corridors and rigorously promoting the important advantages of supporting local businesses.

This good news, however, cannot mask the many problems we face.

The recent Census numbers relating to our community’s population loss, poverty and inequality are very alarming. 

To fix this, it is clear that we cannot continue to rely on our failed economic development plans and policies of the past. That’s why I promised one of the top priorities of my administration would be to focus on economic development and job growth.   We have, and leading that charge has been my Deputy County Executive Rich Tobe.

Over the past year, Rich and I worked very hard to address the challenges we face and to take advantage of the opportunities presented to truly change our economic future. 

And, later this spring, we will be releasing my administration’s economic development agenda entitled: “Initiatives for a Smart Economy.”

This plan will bring together, into one document, a compendium of the work we have already completed along with new and achievable initiatives that Erie County will undertake.  Some will be in support of the WNY Regional Economic Development Council’s key economic proposals while others will find Erie County at the lead.

Major parts of this economic development plan include: making targeted, strategic public subsidies; focusing on a “Blue Economy,” to leverage our geographic location and natural water-based resources; a commitment to smart growth and sustainability through thoughtful land-use planning; ensuring brownfield redevelopment and farmland protection; and, making conscientious investments in our infrastructure, our workforce, and areas important to our quality of life. 

While you will be hearing a lot more about this plan in the months to come, I’d like to highlight a few of the key initiatives that we’ve already started working on.

Chief among these is reforming a dysfunctional IDA system that is not doing enough to grow our regional economy.   We must focus our scarce public resources on economic development efforts that produce real, lasting jobs for our citizens and increased wealth for our region.

For too long, taxpayer subsidies were given to companies that do not produce new economic activity for our community and, many times, are prohibited by the IDAs own policies.  These are bad investments for everyone, including other businesses, and often result in a new government supplied competitive advantage. This is the worst form of government intrusion into the private marketplace.  Government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers, sometimes right across the street from one another.

Now, I’ve taken some heat for my stance on this subject.  Not surprisingly, there are entrenched interests who feel they are entitled to these tax breaks and they now are calling me ‘anti-business’ for questioning the status quo.  Well, to that I say, I’m not ‘anti-business;’ I’m ‘pro-taxpayer’ and I’m ‘pro-real economic growth’ for all.

I believe a company should justify with hard figures how a government subsidy will yield a positive return to the greater community.   And, I will never apologize for asking these hard questions and demanding sound answers on behalf of the people of our County.

Folks, I am not calling for new rules to be implemented, just that all IDAs, including the ECIDA, follow the rules that already exist. I don’t believe that is too much to ask, especially when we see hundreds of millions of dollars of new, private sector investment going on right now in our community.

While we’re not there yet, we are making tremendous strides to fix a flawed process. In the end, we will be a better community for the effort.

In addition to focusing on reforming the broken IDA system our economic development plan will also place an emphasis on workforce development with the potential for new facilities and increased coordination among agencies, including Erie Community College and the Department of Social Services.

Despite the conventional wisdom, we do have jobs in Erie County but, often, they go unfulfilled as employers cannot find local candidates with the proper training.  The problem stems from the disconnect that exists between the jobs that are available and the training being provided to prospective employees.  

Over the course of the past year, I hosted a series of Workforce Development Summits along with the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.  These weren’t job fairs, but high level discussions between job trainers, governmental officials, and employers in an attempt to drill down to the root of the problem. 

We learned that better communication and coordination is needed among employers, training providers, and the educational system, and we will work together as a region to improve the training programs offered to job seekers.

We now know what the problem is, we have the resources at our disposal to fix it, and with this plan, we will begin to fix it.

I want to thank ECC President Jack Quinn and the Buffalo Niagara Partnership for being such strong partners in addressing our community’s workforce development needs. 

Make no mistake; we need to create new jobs in addition to filling those that already exist.  And, I believe we can do it with innovative ideas and capitalizing on our strengths.  That’s why I have talked about leveraging our strategic location on the border with Canada to seize opportunities created by international trade.

Canada is our nation’s largest trading partner, and we sit only 90 miles away from its economic hub—Toronto.   But, when it comes to our relationship with them, it might as well be 9,000 miles away. 

Working with our partners at the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise and World Trade Center Buffalo Niagara, we have already held high level meetings on both sides of the border to discuss coordinated economic development initiatives. 

And, we are starting to reap the bounty of the seeds we planted.   For example, earlier this year, Outfront Portable Solutions—a Canadian company—has invested $2.55 million in order to expand its new Buffalo operations.

Outfront wanted to set up operations in the U.S. in order to market its products as being made in America, but needed help.  They turned to the BNE and by working with the County and ECIDA we were able to make this a reality.

As part of our plan we will make Erie County a destination for Canadian companies looking to expand into the U.S. and a primary location along the U.S. – Canadian border for the distribution of domestic and international goods.

And this is just the start. 

I want to close by giving you a real example of what we can accomplish and how we can forever alter the fate of our community: by making County government part of the solution; by forging strong partnerships among the various levels of government and friends in the private sector; and, by seizing the opportunity to make the best use of our limited resources to maximize their long-term impact.

Growing up in Lackawanna and as the son of a steelworker, I know exactly what Bethlehem Steel’s closing meant for our community. Our collective spirit deflated and we all asked, “what now?”

It’s taken almost 30 years to answer that question.  But today, we have an answer.  Its returning manufacturing and industry back to Lackawanna and back to the former-Bethlehem Steel site.

Today, construction is already taking place and scheduled to be completed this year for Canadian-based Welded Tube’s American operations on approximately 45 acres of the site.  Welded Tube is investing more than $40 million and will employ about 50 workers initially and as many as 125 workers in total in its specialty tube and steel-making plant.  They could have gone anywhere—and believe me, they looked.  But in the end, they chose Erie County because of all the reasons we’ve already talked about.

Now, this didn’t happen overnight.  It has been the culmination of more than 12 years of work starting with the brownfield remediation beginning in 2000.  And there have been a lot of hurdles that could have stopped this project since then.

It required many meetings for almost a year with sometimes countless people in the room from: all levels of government; public benefit corporations from ECIDA, to the Power Authority, to the Water Authority, and Empire State Development; our private sector partners like land owners—Tecumseh, Gateway and South Buffalo Railway; from Welded Tube; a lot of help from organizations like the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise and Partnership; and, then about 5 layers of lawyers in between. 

Welded Tube is just the beginning.

Work is being done to open up an additional 400 acres of heavy industrial zoned land for redevelopment—something that not many communities can boast. 

Already, land that had almost no assessed value – zero--has now been reassessed at the Welded Tube site’s value—$18,000 an acre—virtually overnight.  This will bring in millions in new property tax revenue in the coming years. 

Additionally, the Bethlehem Steel site will no longer be the example of Erie County’s past but what our future can be when we all work together.  An example of how we can transform a desolate brownfield into one of the largest and most attractive shovel-ready development sites in the Northeast.

I thank Welded Tube, represented here today by Joel Shapiro, for their new commitment to this county, and all the elected officials and other partners for their persistence in pushing this project forward.  I ask them all to stand up so others may thank them as well.

Today, we talked about the choices we have made: to change the tone of county government; where partnerships are fostered; the “people’s mandates” are funded; and, the county’s workforce is valued.  We’ve also talked about fiscal discipline, implementing creative ideas for taxpayer savings and making difficult choices about revenues and expenses.  And, what we hope to accomplish going forward and what is required to get us there. 

The goals and aspirations of my administration will never become reality if the choice of the community is to cut government so much we cut ourselves out of existence. 

The Welded Tube Project would not have happened without a multi-million dollar commitment from Erie County to address the lack of infrastructure on the old Bethlehem Steel site.  We talk so much about needing private investment in our community, but no outside business will choose to invest here if they believe we are unwilling to invest in our own community’s assets. This is the perfect example of the kind of business development our IDAs should be working on. 

Lack of revenue for future years puts at risk not only our libraries, health and welfare programs and the arts, but the safety of our roads and bridges and our ability to properly fund economic development opportunities as they arise.

But we cannot let these and other challenges dictate our future.

We need the political will to stop taking the easy way out and start making the hard decisions to move our community forward. 

Looking back on the past year, I believe the difference between success and failure has been partnership.  When we work together, there is nothing we can’t accomplish.   We must cast aside the same old political games and partisan brinkmanship that plagues Washington, and instead set an example for them to follow. 

To show that we aren’t just Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, or 44 municipalities out there on their own.  We are one Erie County and we are working together to make this community everything we all believe it can be, and will be.  

I know the direction I wish to head, and today I am asking all of you to be my partners in getting there.

Thank you.