Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, in his 2014 State of the County Address Wednesday evening, promised to push the state to update its child protection laws and lead a local revival of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War of Poverty.
Poloncarz was rewarded with a standing round of applause at the end of his hour-long talk from a crowd that filled every seat in the Mason O. Damon Auditorium in the Central Library.
The county’s shake-up of Child Protective Services following the deaths of several abused youngsters was among the accomplishments he listed from his first year in office.
He also promised to take his campaign to improve CPS to Albany later this year.
He wants to give CPS workers access to medical and criminal records, to have all calls to the state’s child abuse registry recorded and to have two incidents of excessive corporal punishment within 18 months be considered as a presumption of neglect.
Poloncarz also wants to toughen criminal penalties for endangering the welfare of a child and make it a felony to file a false report of child abuse.
His proposals to alleviate poverty would work on more of a grass-roots level.
He touted the soon-to-open Erie County Health Mall, a one-stop medical and dental service center in the former Matthew Gajewski Clinic on Buffalo’s East Side.
Acknowledging that education is one of the best routes to escape from poverty, the county executive said that a new partnership with Catholic Charities, the Buffalo schools and the Say Yes Program will expand services to at-risk students right in their schools and help them graduate.
He also said the county will try to make sure that everyone who is eligible will get help from federal anti-poverty programs.
Remarking on the area’s economic renaissance, he also spotlighted several other ways that the county has brightened its performance during the past year – the big increase in the county’s public health emergency preparedness score (“We went from F to A-plus”), the turnback of the demand for a refund of $48.5 million in federal aid following the October Surprise Storm of 2006, and better cooperation among municipalities, notably in the Kenmore Avenue repaving project.
Foremost was the county’s response to the Blizzard of 2014, which demonstrated why it has been designated by the National Weather Service as StormReady.
“Two things told me we handled this storm as well as anyone could have handled it,” he said. “First, thankfully, there was no loss of life ... And secondly, I was paid a compliment – in writing – by a member of the new Legislature majority. ... This may be the first one I’ve read since taking office. Hopefully, it won’t be the last.”
As the auditorium emptied, Democrat Poloncarz was given another compliment as from Republican County Legislator Kevin Hardwick.
“I thought it was a good speech,” he said, but he expressed doubt about the war on poverty.
“What can Buffalo do that the federal government couldn’t?” he asked.
Hardwick suggested that more effort should be put into improving the county’s crumbling highways.
“We owe it to the people who drive over them every day to go to their jobs,” he noted. “I would hope ... that we don’t forget the bread-and-butter stuff.”