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Collins, Poloncarz camps clash on parks, grant claims; Candidates for county executive trade barbs on issues raised in campaign

The campaign camps of Chris Collins and Mark C. Poloncarz traded criticism Thursday over county parks and the handling of homeland security grants.

The sharp exchange was a reminder that election season is under way.

Poloncarz, county comptroller and the Democratic candidate for county executive, held an afternoon news conference on Riverwalk in Buffalo, part of the county system, to refute a Collins ad claiming the parks are "in the best shape they've ever been in."

An hour later, Stefan Mychajliw -- campaign spokesman for Collins, the Republican seeking a second term as county executive -- sent out a copy of a letter he said showed that Poloncarz's office had jeopardized nearly $600,000 in homeland security reimbursements by failing to submit proper documentation to the state.

The paperwork has since been submitted -- but the release of the letter by the Collins campaign set off a round of accusations from top county officials over who was to blame.

Monday's letter, written by Central Police Services Commissioner Peter M. Vito, blamed Poloncarz for failing to submit six claims for reimbursement for homeland security grants.

Vito's letter contends that a county computer system log shows that a clerk in the Comptroller's Office received the paperwork that never made it to the state.

"Therefore, she obviously received them, posted them and then failed to submit these claims to New York State," Vito wrote. "I again must reiterate that your office's failure to submit these claims to New York State in a timely manner has jeopardized $586,287.73 in revenue owed to Erie County.

In an interview, Vito said the handling of the matter raised a "credibility" issue for Poloncarz because the comptroller claimed his office never received the paperwork.

In response, Poloncarz called the release of the letter a "diversionary tactic" to take away from his claim that Collins has not kept up the county parks.

Poloncarz contends the Department of Emergency Services had failed to hand-deliver the paperwork for reimbursement to his office and that the computer system log entry did not prove the documents were submitted to his office.

Poloncarz said his office had discovered that paperwork for three of the six grants hadn't been submitted to the state.

"There's no merit to this story," Poloncarz said. "They failed to file on time. They tried to blame our office."

Poloncarz said he is "fully expecting" the county to receive the funds now that the paperwork has been submitted to the state.

Also Thursday, Poloncarz released a YouTube video that depicted peeling painting, exposed wires, missing ceiling tiles and other problems at Wendt Beach, a county park in Evans.

"Our team went around to seven of the parks yesterday -- I personally went to Wendt Beach Park and Bennett Beach Park [in Evans] -- and we documented the just terrible conditions, horrendous conditions that should not exist," Poloncarz said.

In response, Mychajliw released a list of park upgrades he said have been done under Collins, including adding playgrounds, rehabilitating bathrooms and renovating shelters.

"I can give you a long, long laundry list of overall improvements that prove the parks are in the best shape they've ever been compared [with] when they were closed under the [2004-2005] budget crisis to now under the leadership of Chris Collins," Mychajliw said.