Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz will lay out his agenda for the year when he gives his State of the County address on March 27. There are a few issues we hope are at the top of his to-do list.
First, Erie County needs to project a business-friendly environment.
Shortly after being elected to his second term in office, Poloncarz pushed through a policy at the county’s Industrial Development Agency requiring that companies that received tax breaks had to demonstrate they were paying women the same wages as men for comparable work. Companies receiving tax incentives would be subject to random audits to ensure compliance.
It was the right sentiment, but a heavy-handed way to go about it. State law already required that men and women be paid equally. The added threat of county audits no doubt caused some businesses to look elsewhere rather than set up shop in Erie County.
This is an election year for the county executive, who is seeking a third term. He says he is proud to run on his progressive record, as a champion of the powerless, but as the saying goes, politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose. If Poloncarz has political ambitions for future offices, he’ll be judged on his whole record, including the performance of Erie County’s economy on his watch.
In order for our economy to grow, workforce development is crucial. A recent story in The News pointed out that job growth in Buffalo Niagara lags far behind the rest of the country. The primary reason is we don’t have enough people. Some companies can’t fill job openings fast enough, while others can’t take on new business without additional staff. One solution is to encourage more immigrants to resettle here.
No matter where future employees come from, other countries or from here at home, they need training opportunities. The Northland Workforce Development Center in Buffalo is a step in that direction, but that is just one piece. Education and vocational training have to become a priority when government officials list projects on which to spend public money.
Some other topics pushing for attention:
• ECC: The health of Erie Community College is an ongoing concern for Poloncarz and the County Legislature. A recent county Comptroller’s Office report showed a 30 percent decline in the college’s enrollment since 2010. ECC President Dan Hocoy went before the Legislature recently to discuss the decline, and said one strategy is for the school to pursue new certificate programs in high-demand areas, as well as more flexible course scheduling for working adults. ECC is also considering a long-term plan to add student housing and develop more of its campus.
Community colleges are a valuable source of training for traditional students as well as older adults who want to add new skills. Hocoy seems to have a long-term vision for growth; he’ll need support from the county to achieve it.
• County roads: Keeping our roads in good shape is part of preserving the quality of life here. Some slack must be cut when evaluating roads at this time of year, when the ice and snow have retreated and potholes are plentiful. However, there are some notorious stretches of roadway that have been subpar for years and deserve the full attention of our county’s public works crews. We don’t look to our county executive to keep the trains running on time, but we need high-functioning roads for the good of our economy and overall well-being.
• Body cameras: Poloncarz and the County Legislature should impress upon the Sheriff’s Department that it needs to embrace the use of body cameras. Sheriff Timothy Howard has spoken dismissively of them, but it has been proved that they are a necessary tool in modern law enforcement. In one high-profile case here, a sheriffs deputy’s body camera, worn during a test period, recorded part of Deputy Kenneth Achtyl's assault of Nicholas H. Belsito at a Buffalo Bills game. If Howard doesn’t wake up to the necessity of body camera use, the county could use its power of the purse to push him in that direction.