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Poloncarz details signs of progress in annual address

As Erie County’s social and economic fortunes begin to improve, County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz wants to make sure that all residents benefit.

That was the theme of Poloncarz’s third “State of the County” address Thursday evening, which outlined his administration’s successes since he took office in 2012 and where he hopes to lead the county in the future.

“For decades now, we have heard how government is the problem,” he told those attending the speech inside the Mason O. Damon Auditorium at the Central Library on Lafayette Square.

“What we have shown during the past three years is government is not automatically the problem; it can be part of the solution,” Poloncarz said. “As we’ve seen, government, when run properly, can lay the foundation for a better future for all.”

Prudent budgeting and investing in the region’s aging infrastructure, he said, helped lay the groundwork for improving the county’s outlook. He pointed to the county’s lowered unemployment rate since he took office and to the first signs of a modest increase in population in decades.

“When I took office in January of 2012, the county’s unemployment rate was 8.9 percent and there were 40,600 unemployed residents in Erie County,” Poloncarz said.

“Following a broad effort, as of the end of 2014 I am proud to say there are 16,500 less people on the unemployment rolls and the rate of unemployment had dropped to 5.5 percent, lower than the state and national averages,” he added.

Poloncarz pointed to an economic development plan devised by his administration in 2013, Initiatives for a Smart Economy, which, he said, identified 64 achievable courses of action to improve the region’s economy by upgrading infrastructure and securing partners, both in the private sector and in other spheres of government. Some of those initiatives, including the redevelopment of the former Bethlehem Steel site in Lackawanna, are near completion.

“From the Bethlehem Steel site in Lackawanna, to RiverBend in South Buffalo, and to multiple locations in Tonawanda, the sites of our past industrial glory are ready for 21st century business,” Poloncarz said.

The county executive also alluded to 49 new initiatives aimed at reducing poverty in the county, which he unveiled last week. They include efforts to better educate local employers about the benefits of employing disabled workers and creating a volunteer-based Poverty Committee to advise the county’s health and human service departments on the best practices for addressing various needs in the county.

“As part of the plan we will strengthen families by co-locating mental health and substance abuse counselors in our child protective service division to help parents cope with the stresses that often lead to child abuse,” Poloncarz said.

In the process of laying the groundwork for a more socially and economically sound Erie County, he said his administration “has created a county that works for all of its residents – from a young child born in this country to immigrant parents on the west side of Buffalo to the fourth generation of a family farmer in Marilla nearing retirement.”

However, he said, there is still much to do to ensure the gains reach everyone in the county.