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In annual address, Poloncarz sets ‘ambitious’ agenda at start of second term

Mark Poloncarz, in his fifth year as county executive, says this year will be the one that builds a stronger economy and a safer community that works for everyone.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the state of Erie County is strong and getting stronger every day. But we can do better,” Poloncarz said in his state of the county speech Thursday.

Poloncarz outlined 10 initiatives that would affect shoppers, county employees and those running for and holding elected offices while also trying to help those threatened by lead-poisoning and opioid addiction.

Using the Buffalo History Museum as a setting, Poloncarz called on county leaders to consider their place in history.

“The promise of a better Erie County that is stronger, more diverse, more inclusive and more resilient is still there, beckoning us as it did the generations before us,” Poloncarz said.

Poloncarz joked that the agenda he will pursue this year could keep him occupied for the remainder of his term.

He wants to:

• Pursue a ban on plastic shopping bags.

• Ban pharmacy retailers from selling cigarettes and other tobacco products.

• Earmark money to beef up the Erie County Crisis Services referral hotline to help handle all the calls over opioid and heroin drug addiction.

• Hire more inspectors and double the number of home inspections to curb child lead poisoning.

• Overhaul the county’s ethics law and hire a full-time executive director for the Ethics Board.

• Impose a residency requirement for new county employees.

• Set a quota for county residents working for contractors on county projects.

• Create a strategic planning committee for Erie Community College.

• Create an Erie County Planning Board.

• Adopt a Fair Housing policy.

To stand any chance of passing, Poloncarz’s proposals will require support from the County Legislature in the coming months.

Poloncarz promoted his call for on plastic shopping bags, saying “to stand by and do nothing while pollution quietly overtakes our community is not an alternative.”

His call to spend $3.75 million over five years to curb lead poisoning comes as federal data show children in Western New York – ages 5 and under – suffer from the highest rate of lead poisoning in upstate New York. The data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed Erie County with a 14 percent rate of lead poisoning – compared with 8.6 percent in Monroe County, which includes Rochester; and 9.1 percent in Onondaga County, which includes Syracuse.

“The county is not ignoring this danger,” Poloncarz said. “Erie County will do its part to protect our children from the hidden risk that is lead poisoning.”

To fight the opioid addiction crisis in Erie County, Poloncarz wants to earmark more money to support the Crisis Services hotline and add staff to the county Health Department.

“People of all ages and races are dying from these drugs, whether they die with a needle in their arm or a pill bottle at their side,” Poloncarz said.

Poloncarz’s call for a ban of cigarette and e-cigarette sales at pharmacy retailers is another of his initiatives.

“A pharmacy should not be the place to purchase products that are known to cause cancer and other deadly diseases,” he said.

Poloncarz said he established a poverty committee to help the county craft responses to issues of poverty “which must be as diverse as our population.”

“I want them to tell us where we are failing, where we can do more, where we can do better,” he said of the committee.

“We as a community cannot ignore the reality of poverty among us,” he said.

As for instituting a residency requirement for all new Erie County employees, “we are reinvesting in our community and in our workforce,” he said.