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ERIE COUNTY UNDERMINED REGIONAL PLANNING

Over the past several years our civic leaders have preached that the Erie and Niagara region is making a comeback. Many efforts have been made during that time to help bring this region to national prominence, shedding the bad image that has been in existance for years.

Now, the emergence of the Free Trade Agreement combined with our geographic location has given the Niagara Frontier the chance to catapult itself into a position of being a major hub of international trade. Clearly, we exist as a region, a comprehensive amalgamation of municipalities.

For the past 25 years, the Erie and Niagara Counties Regional Planning Board has provided a major part of this service. The regional planning board, which was funded jointly by Erie and Niagara Counties and was an importantly non-partisan governmental agency, provided regional planning functions ranging from water quality studies, to transportation planning, to intergovernmental reviews, to school enrollment projections. Four years ago the planning board undertook the task of coordinating a Regional Geographic Information System, a time and cost saving computerized mapping system for automating many of the planning board's projects. The planning board was on the right track. It was a necessary and important entity.

As of Dec. 31 the planning board will cease to exist in its present form. No funding was included in the 1991 Erie County budget for the planning board. The deletion, proposed by County Executive Dennis Gorski, was a recommendation from the Commissioner of the Department of Environment and Planning, Richard Tobe.

Rather than make waves and jeopardize its good standing with the county executive, the Erie County Legislature approved this measure with little or no regard for Niagara County's support for keeping the planning board functioning. As a result, the planning board's nine-member staff has been laid-off. Two positions, a planner and a stenographer, have been added to the county department under the guise of a regional planning board. But no matter how one figures it, two people can't, and won't, do the work of nine. Although Tobe denies it, he has gotten his narrow-minded wish. Regional planning will now exist at a severely reduced level. It will probably be phased out in a short amount of time.

At this vital juncture in the reemergence of the Erie and Niagara region, we need a concrete and fully committed regional planning body. This, unfortunately, we have lost, probably forever. The shortsightedness of Erie County leaders will be unmistakably damaging to the realization of the region's common goals as we move into the 21st Century.

JEFFREY C. MEYERS
Geographic Information Systems Technician
Erie-Niagara Regional Planning Board
Buffalo

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