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2023 State of the County Address

Good afternoon and thank you to John Spears for your gracious introduction and to Deputy County Executive Lisa Chimera for being our emcee this afternoon.

It is great to be back at the recently renovated Mason O. Damon Auditorium in the downtown branch of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library.

This building alone has been the site of over $7 million in investments since 2013, including $1.75 million for the rehabilitation of this auditorium. This year, we plan to replace the roof of this library, a $2 million investment.

We also assisted the library staff in addressing the problem posed by some younger patrons who came to the building not to educate themselves but to cause trouble.

Working with the Peacemakers, Director Spears and his team envision taking the negative energy from those who would cause trouble and direct it toward some of the incredible resources here, including a new teen space.

I thank Pastor James Giles of the Peacemakers for keeping our Central Library and community safe for all and for his invocation for today’s event.

I would also like to thank John Sanabria of the Gabriel Rodriguez Post and Hispanic Veterans Monument Committee for leading us in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Thanks also to Legislature Chairwoman April Baskin, Majority Leader Tim Meyers, Minority Leader John Mills, members of the Erie County Legislature majority and minority, Comptroller Kevin Hardwick and Sheriff John Garcia, Clerk Mickey Kearns, District Attorney John Flynn and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown for being here today.

Finally, thank you to everyone in attendance here today, and welcome everyone watching us on television or streaming online.

It’s fitting to gather here today to discuss the State of Erie County. The Buffalo and Erie County Public Library System was one of the first cultural institutions in Erie County, nurturing and educating our communities. Through the years, the library has been the repository of much more than books.

From its early roots as the Young Men’s Association to today’s 37 branches and widely diverse offerings, the library has been our community's beloved heart and gathering place for nearly two centuries.

Like many institutions we cherish, preserving it has taken hard work and commitment but it is all worth it.

In 2022, more than 5.9 million items were borrowed, and there were 1.8 million library visits systemwide. This is a community success story that we should all be proud of!

It’s a story borne of hard work, a common purpose, and a desire to improve our community for today and future generations. The desire that built these institutions and then bequeathed that legacy to us is the same desire we have today to create the best community possible.

All around Erie County, we are meeting that challenge, building on the promise of the past and working towards a brighter future for all.

The signs of that happening are all around us.

Erie County today has the lowest property tax rate it has ever had, the lowest rate of all WNY counties. My administration has consistently lowered the property tax rate, providing tangible relief to homeowners. That is not the only financial benefit our constituents have seen during the past decade.

Since 2012, we have retired more than $158 million in county debt, reducing our total indebtedness from more than $416 million to $258 million.

While the federal and state governments’ credit cards balloon, we have been able to reduce ours through strategic investments, thereby saving millions of dollars in interest.

We have restored Erie County’s credit rating to AA after it fell to near-junk bond status during the red/green crisis, allowing us to borrow money at lower rates for critical projects.

Each year we pass fiscally sound, balanced and on-time county budgets that invest in the future, and I thank the Legislature for working with me to make that happen.

There is other good news in the community.

Erie County's population is increasing for the first time in generations. People and businesses are coming here to be a part of our resurgence.

Now some are trying to create the narrative that people are fleeing our county. That is false. Erie County is growing, and we need to continue growing to meet the demand in our community.

For example, unemployment is down to some of the lowest levels ever seen - and businesses are thriving.

We don’t have a lack of jobs problem; thousands of jobs are available today. We actually need more people to fill those jobs. While we may not be able to solve the labor shortage on our own, we can give small businesses the tools they need to grow.

For example, last year, the county invested $10 million in local small businesses to revitalize their storefronts, driving more foot traffic, thereby increasing business, and beautifying our streetscapes.

678 businesses applied for the Storefront Revitalization Initiative, and 260 local businesses were chosen for what I am proud to say was just the first round of county investment.

I am proposing that we invest another $5 million in a second round of the Storefront Revitalization Program. This will allow Erie County to assist other small businesses who previously applied grow, thereby creating thriving business districts across our county.

Thank you to the members of the Legislature for supporting this worthy endeavor, a program that not only improves the look of communities but creates a stronger economy.

We have accomplished much, but it hasn’t been easy. Every year brings its own challenges, and after the COVID-19 pandemic, and its effects on our community, we thought we had seen it all.

Then, 2022 came.

The Omicron wave took 328 of our friends and neighbors early last year, and 643 died in total in 2022.

More people died of an opioid overdose last year than in any previous year since the epidemic began. And, the crisis has changed, taking more middle-aged and older adults than before.

A terrible act of racial hatred took ten lives from us on May 14th, leaving trauma and heartache in its wake. As I will discuss later, our community is still recovering from that event, and many will carry the pain of that day for the rest of their lives.

Mother Nature visited us with fury, leaving seven feet of snow in a crippling November storm that claimed the lives of 2 of our neighbors and then returned three weeks later with a horrible, record-setting Christmas blizzard that claimed 46 lives.

As I will also discuss further, it was a brutal reminder of what winter can be like here in Western New York.

A Christmastime fire claimed the lives of five Buffalo children, and their grandmother recently died from her injuries.

We collectively witnessed the Damar Hamlin incident, and a March fire on Main Street claimed the life of Buffalo firefighter Jason Arno.

We have had more than our share of grief and heartache in the past year. More pain than any community should ever have to bear.

I ask all to take a brief moment of reflection and silence as we remember and honor all we have lost this past year. Thank you.

Just like past generations overcame adversity, we will overcome these challenges by addressing the fundamental issues we face today to create a more prosperous Erie County for all.

My administration’s Prosperity Plan will invest in our community, infrastructure, and public safety, while keeping taxes low. One are we will make investments is in our community’s housing.

Inflation and housing affordability impact every corner of our nation, and we are not immune to it here in western New York. We can only have a strong county if the cost of good, safe housing is affordable to all.

We could see this problem looming on the horizon, and that is why I announced during last year’s address we would host the first of its kind community Housing Summit.

In June of 2022, we hosted such a Summit, bringing together public officials and developers with the goal of advancing needed affordable housing projects countywide.

I am happy to announce that our efforts have paid off. Erie County will invest a total of $2 million of federal Home Investment Partnership Grants in four projects – two in the Town of Hamburg, one in the Village of Angola and one in the City of Tonawanda. These funds will stimulate the construction of 187 new housing units and rehabilitate 119 others, a combined $123 million investment.

However, we are not stopping there. If $2 million of HOME funds can help kick-start the construction and renovation of more than 300 units, think about what we can do if we invested five times, or ten times as much back into our community?

That is why we will invest $20 million in unspent American Rescue Plan Funding into a new Affordable Housing Fund to create quality working-class housing across our community.

Single-family starter homes allow families to build equity and wealth and to live the American dream. Apartments for seniors allow our older adults to continue to age in the place they have called home for their entire lives.

Our county needs more safe, quality, and affordable housing as we continue to grow and thrive, and my administration is focused on this need in our urban and rural communities.

We will never be as healthy community if only the wealthy can afford good, safe housing. Everyone should have access to quality housing, and with the support of the Legislature, we will be investing $20 million to create housing opportunities for our hard-working residents.

But we are not stopping there; this year, we will invest an extra $1 million of federal HOME funds for other Affordable Housing projects through our Department of Environment and Planning.

An additional $2.2 million will be invested in our Housing Rehabilitation Program to assist approximately 90 homeowners with home repairs through 0% interest rate Deferred Loans.

You heard that right, 0% interest loans. At a time of rising interest rates, no one else is offering 0% rates, but Erie County will.

We will also open two newly built single-family homes for low-income families in the City of Lackawanna through Habitat for Humanity, a nearly $500,000 investment in federal housing assistance.

In total, we will invest more than $25 million across Erie County to create safe, quality housing, the largest single-year investment ever by the county in our community’s housing stock. This major investment will also help our community meet the goals of Governor Kathy Hochul’s New York Housing Compact.

The Department of Environment and Planning is also working to improve our community’s infrastructure in 2023, with $1.1 million of Community Development Block Grants invested in infrastructure repairs from the City of Tonawanda in the north to the Village of Springville in the south.

Another significant investment that will protect our water supply and strengthen our blue economy is also starting: the Erie County Division of Sewerage Management will go to bid with Phase 1 of the Southtowns Advanced Wastewater Treatment Facility Expansion project.

This $150 million project is the most significant single investment in the Erie County Sewer Districts in more than 40 years. When the work is complete, Lake Erie will be cleaner for all.

Strong communities need good infrastructure, especially in a climate that takes a toll on them. That’s why in 2023, we plan to augment our recent significant investment in our roads and bridges by investing an additional $50 million.

I’ve often noted that Erie County has more lane miles of roads than the states of Rhode Island, Delaware, and Hawaii, and this year more than 100 miles of our roads will see improvements of one type or another.

Major reconstruction projects include sections of Borden Road, Kenmore Avenue, Cleveland Drive, Brighton Road, Abbott Road, Back Creek Road, Vermont Hill Road, and more.

While it took some extra work and good old-fashioned compromise, this morning the 2023 Consolidated Bond Resolution was passed, paving the way for our infrastructure program to commence.

I want to thank Deputy Budget Director Mark Cornell and Legislative Liaison Jordan Zyglis for their work in getting this critical resolution passed and thank you to the members of the Legislature for working with my administration in a bi-partisan fashion.

Together, we have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in our road infrastructure since 2012, maintaining and protecting our roads from the ravages of Mother Nature. The investment is paying off because the independent Greater Buffalo-Niagara Regional Transportation Council has rated our county roads as being in the best condition in more than 40 years.

It’s all a major part of our Prosperity Plan and our commitment to you that Erie County’s roads and bridges are in the best shape they can be today and in the future.

Along with maintaining our 1,200 centerline miles of roads, our DPW is also part of a greater team charged with snow removal and storm response.

This past year was one of the toughest we’ve ever seen.

To our teams at the Departments of Public Works and Homeland Security and Emergency Services, as well as the members of the Erie County Sheriff’s Office and other county departments, the National Guard, and all other state and local first responders, law enforcement, public works, utility employees, contractors, and community volunteers, thank you for your incredible efforts to help our community through the November superstorm and the terrible December Blizzard.

As we know all too well, we can be at the mercy of Mother Nature when her wrath is fully unleashed. The December Blizzard rendered our first responders helpless when they simply could not respond to many of the calls for aid. When the Sheriff’s Office had to send its special cold weather rescue team to rescue our first responders, this was a storm unlike any other.

Every death is one death too many. However, I know that without the incredible work of many, hundreds more could have been lost in one of the worst storms our nation has ever faced.

Whether it was the on-site rescuers, the staff taking calls on our 858-SNOW number, or citizen volunteers like Christmas Jay Withey, countless numbers of our neighbors were saved because of the work of many.

On behalf of a grateful community, if you are in this room now, please stand so we can thank you for your incredible acts. Many more would have been lost without your incredible efforts. Thank you one and all!

We always work to prepare for the next storm, and this past winter highlighted some areas of response we need to strengthen. Our fleet of plows and other snow-fighting vehicles is about to get a lot bigger.

Two Oshkosh H-series Road Blowers are ready to be ordered; these are giant snow movers replacing two smaller vehicles that are almost 40 years old. This equipment is expensive but is essential during extreme weather events because it can be mobilized quickly to share across the region.

Additionally, we will acquire ten new high lifts which will be of tremendous value when we face the next big storm.

We also are increasing our county’s tracked vehicle fleet by ordering additional tracked vehicles for our Parks Department, which can also be used during the winter for various recreational purposes, and new tracked vehicles for the Sheriff’s Office.

Combined, this is an investment of more than $5 million, but when it comes to clearing snow, responding quickly, and saving lives, it’s worth every penny.

Public safety is also an area we will be addressing, with Erie County moving forward on ways to ensure that county residents have access to lifesaving ambulance services when they are critically needed.

Erie County and NYS are currently experiencing an alarming trend: a significant reduction in certified paramedics and EMTs to respond to medical emergencies due to low pay and brutal hours. As a result, it takes ambulances longer to arrive on location and respond to emergencies. Often, no ambulance is available, which delays the arrival of care and increases the risk of death.

This issue exists in the City of Buffalo, many of our suburbs, such as Blasdell, and in our rural communities, especially in southern Erie County.

It was brought into sharp focus during the COVID-19 pandemic and underscored the need for a better ambulance service to meet the needs of county residents.

To help address this problem, the Erie County Department of Health’s Division of Emergency Medical Services will create its own ambulance service.

The Department has already obtained the required approval from New York State to create the service. Now, it will purchase five ambulances and hire paramedics and EMTs to staff them.

The ambulances will be positioned at designated locations in the county as deemed necessary for coverage. In the program's pilot phase, we will initially work with outer-ring municipalities and areas south of Route 20A.

Thank you to Supervisors Missy Hartman of Eden, John Tobia of North Collins, James Depasquale of Colden, and Village of Lancaster Mayor Lynne Ruda for highlighting the issue to us, and Councilmen Luke Wochensky, James Granville and Joe McCann from the Town of Aurora working with our team during this first phase of the endeavor.

A resolution to create this life-saving service is at the Legislature today.

Another way we will be working to better protect our residents is by purchasing and donating life-saving automated external defibrillators, AEDs, to community centers, senior centers, sports leagues, and other organizations around Erie County.

As we saw in the Damar Hamlin incident, seconds count when a life threatening injury or incident occurs. Having an AED unit available in those seconds could make all the difference.

This initiative is still taking shape, but I want to thank my colleagues at the Legislature for discussing this matter with me and working with us on this vital initiative to protect public health.

Of course, we can’t talk about public safety without talking about law enforcement. Last year 57 new jobs were provided to the Sheriff’s Office to help ensure Sheriff Garcia and his team have the necessary resources to keep Erie County residents safe.

One of Sheriff Garcia’s top priorities since taking office has been to modernize and reform the Jail Management Division, and at the top of that list comes the need for a new Holding Center and Jail. Erie County’s nearly 100-year-old holding center is outdated, dangerous, and expensive to staff and maintain. It’s time to combine the two facilities into one modern center.

To that end, I have directed the Division of Budget and Management and the Department of Public Works to allocate $2.5 million dollars for site acquisition, engineering, and architectural work to plan and build a new, modern Holding Center.

A new Holding Center will require less staffing, protect the health and safety of both deputies and inmates, and lead to long-term cost savings for Erie County taxpayers. It’s an investment worth making, and it’s time to get the ball rolling.

Protecting the public’s safety as well as the public’s health have been key goals of my administration since day one.

From the opening of the Erie County Health Mall in 2014 to declaring the opioid epidemic a public health crisis and creating the Opioid Task Force in 2016, to the incredible efforts protecting our public from the health crisis of our time, the COVID-19 Pandemic, nothing matters more than protecting the public.

Now some in our community would like to rewrite history. They claim COVID-19 was no worse than the flu. Nothing could be further from the truth.

More than 3,100 of our friends, family, and neighbors have died from COVID-19, some this month alone.

Yes, the actions taken in those early days were more than I could have ever imagined implementing before the crisis. However, they were necessary as a silent enemy took the lives of so many, including too many in the prime years of what should have been long lives.

I offer a tremendous thank you to every healthcare professional and anyone else who served during those dark days. Thousands more would have died in our community without your incredible work.

Don’t let others try to rewrite the threat we faced. Never forget the incredible job you did. I won’t. Thank you.

The Pandemic not only took far too many lives but also proved to all that inequity exists in our community’s healthcare delivery. No one should be deprived of access to high-quality healthcare because of where they live or their income level.

Just as we opened the Erie County Health Mall to reduce healthcare inequities, we created the Erie County Office of Health Equity in 2021 to identify healthcare disparities and develop solutions for a healthy future for all.

Directed by Kelly Wofford, the Office of Health Equity recently published its first annual report, marking the first time such an analysis has been completed. The report documents the scope and depth of Erie County’s health disparities using an equity lens that incorporates social determinants of health.

This report will inform our health and wellness initiatives here in Erie County and serve as a resource and model for other communities. I thank Director Wofford and her team for the work they are doing to improve the health of our Erie County community.

The office of Health Equity was just taking shape when its members took on an additional task none of us foresaw when we created it; responding to the May 14th mass shooting.

We will not forget that fateful day, nor the ten beautiful lives that were taken from us far too soon and the 3 who were gravely wounded, but we will also never forget how our community united in response to hatred and terror.

Our community will never be defined by the act of a lone white supremacist but by how we came together to help our neighbors. The Erie County Departments of Health, Mental Health, Senior Services, and the Offices of Health Equity, EEO, People with Disabilities, Sheriff and so many others joined that effort.

I especially want to thank Mayor Byron Brown and his team for their steady leadership on that dark day and in the weeks that followed. Thank you Mayor Brown and your entire team for your work during this terrible period in our city’s history.

Whether ensuring that a community turned into a food desert had access to fresh food or providing mental health and other crisis services to those traumatized by the mass shooting, our teams jumped into action, worked with our many partners, and helped lead all through.

If you were involved in any aspect of the response to this shooting, from law enforcement, to mental health counseling, to food delivery, I ask you to stand so we may thank you for your service. Thank you.

As I mentioned earlier, unemployment is down in Erie County. Tens of thousands of our neighbors have returned to work after the dark days of the pandemic. My administration will continue our efforts to create good-paying jobs that support families and build a stronger community.

If you’ve recently driven on Route 5 in Lackawanna, you’ve undoubtedly noticed the new energy and investment at the former Bethlehem Steel site, now reborn as the Renaissance Commerce Park.

Rapid progress is being made at RCP, as we call it. Erie County, along with the City of Lackawanna and the ILDC, continues to transform 250 acres of the site into a modern industrial park, focusing on advanced manufacturing, multi-modal logistics, and green energy.

Developers and businesses continue to submit proposals and acquire parcels at RCP. This year we could see commitments for nearly 1 million square feet of new space at the park.

Think about that: an industrial wasteland that sat vacant for decades is now the home to multiple companies that produce products as varied as sugar, auto parts, steel tubes, and the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.

Hundreds of acres that previously generated almost zero tax dollars are now teeming with activity, as well as an extension of the shoreline trail. It is now one of the most attractive pieces of advanced manufacturing property in North America.

Along with our partners from the federal government and New York State, Erie County has invested over $30 million in infrastructure at RCP. This includes moving rail lines, adding water, sewer, gas, and electric utilities, as well as not one but two new public roads, including the recently completed Steelworkers Way.

Our community was built on the backs of the thousands of men and women who toiled in the searing heat and difficult conditions at the steel plant and many other manufacturing sites that no longer exist.

We honor their efforts by building anew at the location of the sites they once knew well. We will pay tribute to their labor by soon unveiling a one-of-a-kind entrance for the Renaissance Commerce Park that further honors the site’s steelmaking legacy.

We are all a part of this incredible journey we now call the RCP, and I want to thank all our partners who joined to make what was once a dream a reality.

As we develop our economy, we also want to make sure our investments give back to the community. That’s why today I’m proud to announce that working hand-in-hand with Legislator Gilmour, we have developed and will be introducing a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Business Local Law. These laws, which have already been adopted in other parts of New York State, give a competitive advantage to those who have made enormous sacrifices for our country. This local law will ensure meaningful participation in public procurement by certified Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Businesses, further integrating such businesses into Erie County’s economy.

Healthcare is another sector of our economy that is critically important to our community and one that we will continue to strengthen in several ways.

Our Erie County Healthcare Careers program – or ECHC – has been a phenomenal success, training critically-needed nurses, medical technicians and assistants, and other healthcare professionals.

ECHC addresses this need for highly-trained healthcare workers and provides a pathway for low- and moderate-income residents to advance their careers and move up the ladder to family-sustaining wages.

I am pleased to report that Erie County enrolled and trained five times as many new healthcare workers in one year as the former federal program it was based on did – at three-quarters of the cost per student and with higher retention rates.

The program is such a success, last year I was invited by the Biden Administration to report about it at a White House Workforce Development Summit.

Our community needs more highly trained, well-qualified, and essential healthcare workers. That is why we will continue to fund this successful program.

This year we will also be furthering our progress on the People’s Mandates, those programs and services that the public expects but aren’t mandated by law.

These include expanded library services, investment in our incredible parks and arts and cultural organizations, and bringing high-speed broadband to all of Erie County. These services are not mandated by New York State but are the backbone, heart and soul of a place we call home.

I mentioned earlier how busy and bustling our libraries are, with millions of visits and items borrowed annually. It’s no surprise; we have always known that libraries are the heart of our communities, expanding knowledge and bringing a sense of togetherness.

As times have changed and technology has grown, people are coming to the library for 3-D printing, music production, better internet access, and much more. In some areas of the county, people come to the libraries specifically for access to the WiFi.

We will be boosting their reception by investing in the Library’s current system to provide portable WiFi hotspots and Chromebook kits that can be checked out of the library, bringing WiFi access wherever you go.

Much like you would take a book with you to the park or the beach, now you can take a hotspot with you to provide WiFi access wherever you may be.

The county’s investment will add 253 stand-alone hotspots and 64 Chromebook kits to the Library’s current program. These would be distributed countywide with an eye on need and circulation to ensure the most effective impact, and are another great way that our libraries can serve as hubs of knowledge.

Of course, improved internet capability has been a focus of my administration, and that’s why we introduced our ErieNet initiative to bring high-speed middle-mile broadband to every corner of the county.

Construction is funded through $36 million in American Rescue Plan funds. Erie Net’s design is complete, and construction will begin within weeks; an unprecedented initiative that will build nearly 400 miles of new broadband infrastructure in Erie County, spanning 152 community anchor sites.

Thank you to President Biden, Congressman Higgins, and all who supported the American Rescue Plan.

I think we would all agree that a better-connected community is a stronger one. And so is one that provides fun, recreational activities every day of the year.

Our Erie County Parks have seen tremendous investment throughout my administration, and our RENEW Plan continues to provide the impetus for system-wide improvements.

Work on shelters, restrooms, amenities, and all other facets of our Parks has been ongoing and is another sign of my commitment to improving these green spaces for the next generation.

But we are not done. 2023 will be a year of significant investment in our parks.

For example, using previously approved RENEW Plan dollars, we will begin the reconstruction of the Schenk House at Grover Cleveland Golf Course. The oldest remaining farm homestead in Buffalo will soon be turned into a museum of Parks Department artifacts and history.

We also will begin the process of design, renovation, and redevelopment of the Wendt Beach Mansion and Horse Stables. Proposals as varied as an events center to glamping have been offered by developers, and we will soon begin the work to transform the abandoned buildings to their former glory and more.

Of course, we will continue to rehabilitate the WPA shelters at our historic parks and invest in the amenities that make a family’s visit to the park an enjoyable one. One such amenity is inclusive playgrounds.

Like dandelions in the spring, inclusive playgrounds are popping up all over the Parks system. The first one opened in 2021 at Chestnut Ridge Park, and now there are five more, with three opened this year at Ellicott Creek, Como Lake, and Emery Parks, and two others soon to follow at Akron Falls and the other side of Chestnut Ridge.

These popular attractions allow people of all ages and abilities to enjoy quality time in our parks. Surprising to me, there has been some criticism of our investment in these playgrounds as a waste of tax-dollars.

In government we represent everyone in our community, from the youngest child to oldest adult, not just taxpayers. Every penny we invest in building inclusive playgrounds in our Erie County Parks is worth it when you see the smile on a child's face, especially those who may have never enjoyed a playground before due to a disability.

I thank the Erie County Parks Department and Office for People with Disabilities for working together on these great new additions to our Parks, as well as the Legislators for supporting this incredibly worthy endeavor.

As with so many successful ventures, strong partnerships make our Parks special. Interdepartmental cooperation between our Parks, DEP, and DPW personnel has made a tremendous difference in how our parks look. Numerous partnerships with external agencies have been instrumental in operating, maintaining, and preserving the system. I thank them all for their efforts to create the best parks possible.

Arts and cultural organizations are also flourishing. I have always been a staunch advocate for these groups, supporting hundreds of organizations with nearly $77.5 million in operational funding and over $35 million in capital funding since I took office.

The $25 million Cultural Capital Grant Program I announced last year is off and running. The first 35 grants totaling $8 million in aid were awarded in 2022, with the remainder to be allocated this year and in 2024.

The first project to be completed was Road Less Traveled Production’s new lounge and lobby. A gorgeous new lounge now greets the patrons. Not only will this help Road Less Traveled sell more tickets, but it will also generate additional sales tax for the county, a win all around.

Additionally, our Cultural Operating Grant Program continues to grow. This year, $7.7 million of county tax dollars will be invested in 114 Arts & Cultural Organizations, the most ever!

We are known for our vibrant arts and cultural community. From an exploding public art scene to the soon-to-be reopened Albright Knox Gundlach Art Museum, Buffalo is the talk of the art world from NY to Paris.

Just like we enjoy the BPO, History and Science Museums, the Zoo, and so many other institutions and parks because of the investment of prior generations, we must invest in these institutions, not only for today but for the generations that follow.

Another example of how we are investing in our community will be one of the community’s largest construction projects ever: the new stadium for our Buffalo Bills.

During the past 10 years three NFL teams have moved, but I am proud to say that the Bills will be playing here through 2055. Groundbreaking will be happening soon, although I’m sure it’s not soon enough for Bills fans worldwide.

The agreement we negotiated is financially better for Erie County than the existing lease, capping the county’s contribution to the project at $250 million and transferring the ownership of the stadium to New York State, meaning county taxpayers will no longer pay to maintain the stadium.

As previously noted, the Bills will bear all cost overruns in the construction process, a key provision when we are all feeling the pinch from inflation, and the cost estimate for the stadium has already increased by 140 million dollars to 1.54 billion dollars.

The lease also includes a robust Community Benefits Agreement that is the result of vigorous negotiations between the county and team.

Because of the steadfast resolve of our county negotiating team, we got the best CBA for any community with an NFL team. More than $100 million will be reinvested by the team and its related entities in our community during the life of the lease, and living wage standards will be implemented for all team employees.

Additionally, the agreement has strong minority, women, and service disabled business requirements, meaning everyone in our community will benefit from the stadium’s construction.

I thank the members of our community benefits agreement negotiation team, especially Chairwoman April Baskin and caucus leaders Tim Meyers and John Mills, for their efforts to get a strong CBA. Thank you!

I also thank Governor Kathy Hochul and the Bills for engaging in constructive dialogue throughout the negotiating process and delivering for Bills supporters everywhere.

And to our friends in the construction industry and organized labor, you are about to become the integral part of this project by building this state-of-the-art stadium for our community. Because of the Project Labor Agreement included in the deal, thousands of union laborers from across Erie County and WNY will work on this project, ensuring the money invested by the county will be spent many times over in our community.

It’s just one project of many, many others that are investing billions into our community, creating a county we could only dream of a few short years ago.

You see, for decades our leaders sought a silver bullet project to end our region’s long economic malaise, a knight to ride in on a white horse and save us. However, there was no silver bullet nor a knight coming to save us. What turned around our community was us. We were the change that created this New Buffalo, this New Erie County.

Because of the public and private sector investments we’ve made, we are facing a future of unlimited possibilities.

Despite the terrible adversity we’ve faced, it is truly an exciting time to be a part of a robust and resilient community that is moving forward.

While we have accomplished much, there is more work to do. With hands extended to each other, focused on a common purpose, there is nothing we cannot do when we work together.

The spirit of those who came before and dared to dream of what our community could be remains undiminished. It is inside of all of us.

Let’s harness that spirit together and lead Erie County to an even better future for all. We can do it and we will.

Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless Erie County.