By Elizabeth Riggs
The hazardous, deteriorated road conditions were the main topic of question, and for some, outrage, last week at a town hall meeting held by Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz at the Sprague Brook Casino in Glenwood.
In the town hall portion of the meeting, local business owners and residents all questioned Poloncarz as to how tax dollars were being spent, and why the road conditions on 240, Springville-Boston Road, and Glenwood-East Concord Road have remained so bad for so long.
Last week, a portion of Springville Boston Road was repaved, but the milling and resurfacing of Route 240, from Springville to East Concord will not take place until 2019 due to budget. It’s these roadways on which local business owners raised concerns, and gave specific examples of motorists driving on the shoulders in order to avoid the potholes, some even saying that customers told them they couldn’t shop at their stores due to road conditions.
“It’s always a money issue. We have at least 24,000 lane miles of road in Erie County,” said Poloncarz, who explained that roads are ranked according to deterioration and then repaired accordingly. “It was a terrible winter for roads. The winter just destroyed them.”
Additional questions from attendees touched on topics ranging from Medicaid to rural broadband, and the opioid epidemic to Scoby Dam.
During the beginning of the town hall meeting, Poloncarz outlined his new economic development plan, titled “’Initiatives for a Smart Economy 2.0” which piggybacks on his plan released in 2013. The first plan identified 64 initiatives that the county undertook to support economic growth in the region. Since the release of the 2013 plan, 32 of the 64 initiatives have been fully implemented, and an additional 28 are currently underway.
The most local and applicable efforts outlined in the plan include efforts to develop an agri-business focused industrial park on the site of the former Angola Airport in an effort to offer “local and regional employment opportunities to help alleviate rural poverty that exists in southern Erie County,” as the plan reads.
“These are the types of initiatives that make a difference,” Poloncarz said of the agri-business park. “This is one we think is particularly important. It’s in negotiations now.”
Additionally, the Infrastructure and Transportation portion of the economic plan includes $75 million investment in upgrades to Southtowns Advanced Wastewater Treatment Facility, which services portions of Boston, Eden, Hamburg and Orchard Park, and the villages of Blasdell, Hamburg and Orchard Park.
Most locally, in the Quality of Life portion of the economic plan, Poloncarz noted that there will be improvements made to many Erie County parks, including Sprague Brook, in which an additional 30 campsites will be electrified.
Additional initiatives in the newly-released plan include the redevelopment of the former Bethlehem Steel site as an industrial park in an effort to uplift a portion of Lackawanna, which is one of the poorest census districts.
Also in Lackawanna are plans for upgrades to the Wastewater Treatment Plant in order to meet regulatory requirements and address future growth in the service area, which includes Lackawanna and small portions of Buffalo, Hamburg and West Seneca.
Another initiative includes increased marketing efforts to Southern Ontario and Canadian companies for potential operations in Erie County for new manufacturing, distribution and job opportunities.
On this initiative, Poloncarz explained that the Buffalo area is uniquely situated in a location that would allow Canadian business members to travel back and forth from American to Canadian offices in a day’s time – a convenience that many other border states can’t offer.
“We would be building our own communities by bringing Canadian companies here, and taking advantage of our unique location,” Poloncarz said.
On this same note, Poloncarz announced that Visit Buffalo Niagara is working with a group of Western New York hotels and proposing an increased bed tax in order to gain more revenue for the County’s tourism industry.
Poloncarz outlined several other initiatives as part of the “Initiatives for a Smart Economy 2.0” plan. Further details on the entirety of Poloncarz’s plan can be found on the Erie County Government website: http://www2.erie.gov/.