Tonawanda News — BUFFALO — Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz highlighted the importance of emergency preparedness and announced a new health and human services plan during his second State of the County address Wednesday night.
Nearly three hundred people packed the Mason O. Damon Auditorium in the Central branch of the Buffalo & Erie Country Library to hear Poloncarz reflect on the achievements of his administration and plan for the challenges ahead.
Poloncarz began by lauding the county’s emergency response to the recent blizzard in January. He pointed out that Erie County is one of the only counties in the state to receive the National Weather Service’s StormReady designation.
“For better or for worse, we are known nationwide as much for our weather as our chicken wings. So, it’s a good thing that we are now also known for our emergency preparedness and ability to respond to a winter weather emergency,” he said.
During the blizzard — the first one to hit the region since 1993 — the county mobilized the emergency operations center and worked with state, federal and local officials to coordinate responses to the storm and communicate with the public. As a result, there was no loss of life.
The county has also drastically improved its public health emergency rating given by the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which analyzes communities’ access to an inventory of medical equipment and supplies. In 2011, the county had a failing grade of 65 percent.
Now, the county’s score is 95 percent.
“In less than two years, we went from an F to an A plus and if need arises, we are now prepared to respond,” Poloncarz said.
A number of other achievements were mentioned, including the county legislature holding the line on taxes and the reduction of FEMA’s audit from the 2006 storm. The federal agency initially sought $48.5 million from the county, but that amount was reduced to a repayment of $700,000.
Improvements in the Tonawandas were also highlighted, include the repaving of Kenmore Avenue — a joint effort between the county and city of Buffalo. Poloncarz also pointed out the county’s new dog park in Ellicott Creek, which opened at the beginning of 2014.
Poloncarz also emphasized the economic revival that has began. Buffalo is seeing infrastructure improvements with the HarborCenter and Canalside, and since January 2012, 12,300 more people in the county are employed.
But Poloncarz recognized that not everyone has benefited from the recent improvement.
“In fact many at the lowest rung of the economic ladder are being left behind, and income inequality is now putting at risk the middle class,” he said. “Poverty hurts us all — imposing high costs not just on those suffering it, but on government, businesses and neighborhoods.”
The county administration is working on a new services plan, Initiatives for a Stronger Community, to accompany his development plan, Initiatives for a Smart Economy, which was announced in June.
Poloncarz stressed that an anti-poverty strategy must be a region-wide initiative that strengthens families, provides support for people when necessary and provides tools for families to learn new skills.
Michael Weiner, the president of United Way of Buffalo & Erie County, introduced Poloncarz Wednesday night and said that the county has and will be a partner in addressing the needs of the poor.
“It is quite evident that Mark Poloncarz and Erie County are taking steps to protect our more vulnerable citizens,” he said.
Other future work includes Poloncarz’s proposal to reform the state’s law concerning the Child Protective Services system. Changes have already been made to the local department, but Poloncarz is now asking for more widespread reforms. Under his proposal, endangering the welfare of child in certain circumstances, as well as making a false report of child abuse would become felonies.
The changes would also give workers access to records that Poloncarz said will help them do their jobs.
“It is absolutely outrageous that CPS workers, trying to protect innocent children, do not have direct access to either police or vital medical records,” he said. “When responding to a call, they have no ability to determine if any member of the household has a criminal background.”
Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000 ext. 4150, or follow her on Twitter @JessicaLBagley.