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Legislators want answers from control board about ECMC borrowing deal

Some members of the Erie County Legislature are threatening to subpoena the Erie County control board to compel its members to answer legislator questions about a proposed $100 million borrowing deal to benefit Erie County Medical Center.

"As someone who believes in transparency in government, and has done everything he can to ensure transparency, I find it shocking that the control board is unwilling to meet with us openly," said Legislature Majority Leader Joseph Lorigo, C-West Seneca.

In a unanimous vote Thursday, the Legislature requested the control board, officially known as the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority, to appear at a committee meeting next week. If members of the control board don't show up, some Republican-supported legislators say they'll try and turn their request into a legal demand.

Legislators want to question the control board's role in borrowing money for the hospital. They also want the board's overall assessment of the proposal endorsed by both County Executive Mark Poloncarz and hospital CEO Thomas Quatroche.

The borrowing would go toward building a new ECMC emergency department and trauma center, among other hospital improvements and upgrades. But the fact that Erie County would get millions in cash from the deal has raised red flags for four of the 11 members of the Legislature.

Control board President James Sampson is reluctant to wade into the political and fiscal controversy, citing the board's independent status. The control board has declined prior requests to publicly answer legislator questions.

"If they fail to come, I will do everything in my power as majority leader and chairman of the Finance and Management Committee to force that subpoena," Lorigo said. "And if the chairman of the Legislature won't do it, I'll speak to the comptroller."

Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw, a Republican and vocal critic of the county executive, said he would subpoena the control board if Legislature Chairman John Mills, R-Orchard Park, doesn't.

"I absolutely, positively will," Mychajliw said.

Mills said he would issue a subpoena only as a "last resort."

Mills said he and other legislators are interested in hearing from control board members, whose opinions regarding the health and stability of county finances carry considerable influence.

"I don't know if you have to have the full board, but the chairman or a representative should come and answer any questions," said Legislature Minority Leader Thomas Loughran, D-Amherst, who supports the borrowing proposal.

Control board members, however, seem reluctant to be drawn into the ongoing tug-of-war between Poloncarz and four members of the Legislature. Amherst Supervisor Barry Weinstein, the newest member of the control board, expressed a willingness to meet with the board earlier this week. But he said he has no desire to attend a Legislature committee meeting on Thursday, the first day of the NCAA tournament downtown.

"If they subpoena me, I'll come, but they'll have to reimburse me for my tickets," he said.

To preempt the Legislature, Sampson on Thursday called for the control board to meet Wednesday morning. At that time, the control board is expected to discuss the matter and possibly vote on whether to sell and refinance bonds on ECMC's behalf. Any approval action would still be contingent on the Legislature giving the control board the authority to move forward.

"We were going to have to have the meeting sooner or later, so we made it sooner," Sampson said Thursday afternoon.

He also said that if county and hospital officials wish to be heard, they would be given an opportunity to speak.

Both Sampson and Weinstein have expressed reservations about the county receiving millions from the hospital up front for its role in authorizing the borrowing deal with the control board. The board, however, appears unified in its belief that the control board is the best and cheapest way for ECMC to borrow money that would improve the hospital.

Sampson said the board remains responsible for evaluating the county's four-year fiscal plan and will carefully review efforts by the county executive to cover ongoing expenses with one-shot revenues.

"If it's unsustainable revenue, we'll know that," Sampson said. "We'll comment and make recommendations accordingly."

In other actions, the Legislature:

* Unanimously approved a resolution, sponsored by Legislator Patrick Burke, D-Buffalo, supporting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and opposing any rollback of the Clean Water Rule that provides most of the federal funding for Great Lakes pollution cleanup efforts.

* Voted 7-4 in favor of a resolution, sponsored by Legislator Edward Rath III, R-Amherst, in support of state legislation to eliminate some gun control provisions in the state's SAFE Act. The legislation would apply to areas outside of New York City.


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