Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz’s State of the County speech contained an extensive list of public policy proposals, the most important of which involve matters of public health.
The second-term county executive is attempting bold steps on several key matters important to the wellbeing of residents. Tops on that list are efforts to curb lead poisoning and opioid abuse.
Poloncarz proposes spending $3.75 million over the next five years to nearly double the number of environmental health inspections and purchase new equipment.
Lead poisoning has been in the national news since the debacle in Flint, Mich., where lead leaching from old pipes was found to be poisoning the residents. Astoundingly, in Western New York young children suffer a higher rate of lead poisoning than those in Flint, and the highest rate of lead poisoning in the upstate region. Our lead problem stems not from the water but from now-banned lead paint that is still found on the walls and woodwork of many older homes.
Poloncarz’s proposal is one more welcome element in the fight against lead poisoning. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., is proposing a new $3,000 homeowner tax credit for lead abatement. New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman is earmarking $346,825 in lawsuit settlement money toward local lead prevention and remediation. The Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo will provide part of the attorney general’s matching grant and is seeking support to double that amount in an effort to accelerate lead remediation.
The tens of thousands of older homes in the county need more than just inspections; once lead is found, action must be taken, with the threat of enforcement for failure to comply.
In his other major health proposal, Poloncarz plans an attack on the opioid epidemic by earmarking roughly $400,000 to strengthen the overwhelmed Erie County Crisis Services referral hotline, which is dealing with the high volume of calls related to opioid and heroin addiction.
These two proposals are expensive, but the problems are serious.
On another matter, Poloncarz wants to rewrite the county’s ethics law. While it has undergone some adjustments, including last year, it has been largely unchanged since it was passed in 1989. Among the proposals: prohibiting county officials from working for another municipality, requiring greater disclosure if they are hired by a third party or have clients who do business with the county and strengthening the Board of Ethics. The county executive is on to something here. And so is Legislature Majority Leader Joseph C. Lorigo, C-West Seneca, who had previously announced plans to further revise the ethics code. He and Poloncarz should be open to collaborating on this vital legislation.
Other Poloncarz proposals:
• A ban on plastic shopping bags. We agree that the bags can be a problem, but rather than a ban we would like to see the public push retailers into reusables. A campaign promoting reusable bags would be a start toward changing behaviors, and a better use of county money.
• An Erie Community College strategic planning committee. It might not have been needed with better communication between the county executive and college president, but ECC needs to do a better job planning for what appears to be an austere future.
• Fair housing policy and workforce quotas. Details were skimpy, but there are already regulations on the books in these areas. Poloncarz has to prove we need more.
The state of the county could be better. Poloncarz is making clear his priorities in seeking to change that.