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Win some, lose some: What happened to 2016's State of County initiatives

When Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz delivers his annual State of the County address on Wednesday at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, it will be a slightly different animal than the one he rolled out last year.

His address in 2016 featured 10 ambitious initiatives that he previously joked would be enough to cover him for the next several years.

That is proving to be true.

A look back at his 10 major agenda items from last year shows that he's had some wins, some defeats -- and some cases where the jury is still out.

This year, Poloncarz is expected to deliver a more conservative address that still rolls out a few new efforts, but also reinforces the need to shield the programs and services the county already has, particularly in light of what he sees as looming financial assaults from the Trump administration.

"It has a much more bully pulpit aspect to it," Poloncarz said Monday. "But I’m the county executive. I have a bully pulpit. I might as well use it on the things that matter."

Poloncarz acknowledged Monday that while his administration has gained some major wins since his last State of the County address, there are other initiatives -- remember the ban on plastic bags? -- that have either languished or died.

Here's a look back at his 10 initiatives from 2016, in no particular order, and what happened to them:

1. Explore a ban on plastic shopping bags.

The plan: Fund a study that would lay the framework for a new local law to either prohibit grocery stores and other retailers from giving out plastic bags to shoppers, or establish financial penalties for plastic bag use. He called the distribution of plastic bags an environmental pollution hazard.

Status: Defeated. Lawmakers refused to approve the funding for the study.

2. Combat opioid fatalities with a new hotline and more Department of Health funding.

The plan: Establish an addiction hotline to connect addicts and their loved ones with resources, information and referrals for treatment. The plan would also fund the cost of two additional employees to promote Narcan training and coordinate the work of the county's new Opiate Epidemic Task Force.

Status: Completed. Recognizing the public health fatality crisis facing the county, the Erie County Legislature approved both measures last year.

3. Expand lead poisoning prevention efforts.

The plan: Earmark $750,000 a year over the next five years to hire more inspectors, administrators and equipment to check for lead violations on county properties.

Status: Completed. The Legislature approved the funding, which was leveraged for an additional $3.4 million in federal money to combat lead poisoning and remediate homes.

4. Prohibit the sale of cigarettes at pharmacy retailers.

The plan: To make Erie County the first county in the state to ban pharmacy retailers from selling cigarettes, e-cigarettes and other related products in any store that contains a pharmacy.

Status: Defeated. A proposed law was sent to a Legislature committee and left there to die for lack of support.

5. Reform county ethics law.

The plan: To repeal the county's old, amended 1989 ethics policy and replace it with a tougher one, designed to better prevent conflicts of interest, increase fines for financial disclosure violations and strengthen the Board of Ethics.

Status: Pending. Poloncarz has worked with Legislature Majority Leader Joseph Lorigo to retool a revised version of his ethics law. It has been recently reintroduced to the Legislature and is awaiting further action.

6. Adopt a fair housing policy.

The plan: To push a "fair housing" anti-discrimination law that would make it illegal to discriminate against those looking for a place to live, extending beyond protections provided by federal and state housing laws.

Status: Stalled. A local law that would prevent discrimination based on numerous categories, including sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, single-parent and marital status, has been sitting in a Legislature committee since November.

7. Residency requirement for county employees.

The plan: To require all new Erie County employees to be county residents. New hires would have six months to move into the county.

Status: Stalled. Poloncarz should be able to draw sufficient Legislature support to pass this law, but he has not yet introduced it, saying he'd like to see some of his other initiatives, including the ethics law and fair housing policy, gain more traction first.

8. Local workforce quota for contractors.

The plan: To enact a "first source" labor policy that would require businesses contracting with Erie County to employ a certain percentage of county workers.  This would apply first to construction jobs but eventually could expand to include other types of contracted work.

Status: Pending. Poloncarz has not yet put forward this policy, but said Monday he expects to sign an executive order regarding the policy before the end of the year.

9. Create an Erie Community College strategic planning committee.

The plan: Working with ECC to establish a 10-member "Operations and Strategic Planning Committee" with five county and five ECC designees. The committee would jointly examine issues related to the current operating and future direction of the college, especially as it pertains to the college's infrastructure needs.

Status: Completed. With little fanfare, the county administration and community college set up the committee -- one that includes the deputy county executive and budget director. The group has been meeting for several months.

10. Create a county planning board.

The plan: Establish a county planning board to implement a community vision that was developed as part of the two-year, One Region Forward Initiative. The board would have broad authority to ensure local development plans don't have a harmful impact on county infrastructure.

Status: Defeated. The planning board model proposed by Poloncarz was not supported by the Charter Revision Commission.

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