Polon­carz pushes ‘new re­nais­sance’ for all in county

Says pro­pos­als will build on progress; Repub­li­cans blast con­di­tion of roads

The Buffalo News - - CITY&REGION - By San­dra Tan and Harold McNeil

Erie County Ex­ec­u­tive Mark Polon­carz pro­posed ini­tia­tives for agri­cul­ture, con­sumer pro­tec­tion, in­ter­net con­nec­tiv­ity and health and hu­man ser­vices Wed­nes­day dur­ing his State of the County speech.

“Now is not the time to rest on our lau­rels but to work even harder to en­sure this great new re­nais­sance is felt by all,” Polon­carz told his au­di­ence at the Al­bright-Knox Art Gallery.

But crit­i­cism over the con­di­tion of county roads also put Polon­carz on the de­fen­sive.

“If my crit­ics were hon­est, they’d ac­knowl­edge that the $419 mil­lion in com­bined cap­i­tal and op­er­at­ing road fund­ing we’ve in­vested in our roads and bridges since 2012 has had a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact,” he said.

“Don’t let any­one tell you we aren’t fix­ing our roads,” he added.

“The county ex­ec­u­tive can say what­ever he wants,” said Leg­is­la­ture Mi­nor­ity Leader Joseph Lorigo, C-West Seneca. “The fact of the mat­ter is if you go out and drive the county roads through­out Erie County, you’ll see they are in de­plorable con­di­tion.”

In what could be seen as an open­ing ar­gu­ment for his re­elec­tion bid this year, Polon­carz cred­ited his ad­min­is­tra­tion with tax break re­forms, work­force devel­op­ment pro­grams and in­vest­ment in the Beth­le­hem Steel site. As for pub­lic health and safety, he re­minded his au­di­ence of his suc­cess­ful push to end the sale of to­bacco and e-cig­a­rette prod­ucts at drug­stores and other phar­macy re­tail­ers, in­vest­ments to com­bat lead poi­son­ing in chil­dren, the county’s pas­sage of the Fair Hous­ing Law and its rapid emer­gency re­sponse to storms like the Jan­uary bliz­zard.

Polon­carz pointed out that the un­em­ploy­ment rate was 8.9 per­cent when he took of­fice in 2012 and is now 3.9 per­cent, the low­est end-of-year un­em­ploy­ment rate for Erie County in more than four decades. The num­ber of jobs in the Buf­falo Ni­a­gara re­gion to­tals 578,700, which is 27,000 more since 2013, he said.

“While we can’t take credit for cre­at­ing all of them, we can take credit for putting pro­grams in place that helped,” he said.

He sought sup­port for new en­deav­ors that would “cre­ate the best Erie County we can be.” Among his key pro­pos­als: • Cre­ate a “Live Well Erie” health and hu­man ser­vices ini­tia­tive to im­prove the health and well­ness of chil­dren, work­ing fam­i­lies and se­niors. This ef­fort will in­clude pro­grams to strengthen early child­hood devel­op­ment; a mo­bile van to bring so­cial ser­vices, se­nior ser­vices, health and vet­er­ans de­part­ments di­rectly to res­i­dents; and an en­hanced, free din­ing pro­gram for se­niors.

• Re­turn down­hill ski­ing to

John Hickey/News file photo

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