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Poloncarz letter: $8.5 million in budget cuts 'irresponsible'

By Denise Jewell Gee

A plan to cut $8.5 million from Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz's 2013 budget proposal drew sharp words from the county executive on Wednesday.

You can read about the proposed cuts in stories that appeared in Wednesday and Thursday's editions of The News.

Here's the letter Poloncarz wrote to legislators, urging them not to pass the cuts and explaining why he believes they would be "irresponsible and reckless."

Erie County executive's response to Legislature's proposed budget amendments

What does the county executive's staff do when a union vote fails? A revision

Back in July, when County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz reached a tentative agreement with county government's largest union, confidence exuded from the 16th floor of the Rath Building.

He wasn't taking interviews on the subject, but a news released issued by his office on July 23 included this quote: “In my first 7 months, I have done what the previous two administrations could not accomplish over the last 5 years--reaching a fair agreement with the County’s largest employee union,” Poloncarz said in a written statement released by his office.

The statement was a leap.

Former County Executive Chris Collins had also reached a tentative contract in 2010 with the union. That proposal was voted down by the CSEA's membership.

The same thing happened last week when CSEA members rejected the latest proposal negotiated by Poloncarz.

Poloncarz did not make himself available to discuss the vote with The News on Thursday, but his office did issue another written statement.

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Staff in his office also quietly went back and revised the original statement sent out to news outlets on July 23. The quote claiming Poloncarz had done "what the previous two administrations could not accomplish over the last 5 years" has been deleted.

The sentence now reads: "Today, I believe we have reached a fair agreement with the County’s largest employee union,” said Poloncarz.

Why the change? Peter Anderson, a spokesman for Poloncarz, said the county executive's director of policy and communications "thought that first sentence was presumptive being that it was a tentative agreement."

-- Denise Jewell Gee

What 'market access risk' means for Erie County

Politically charged debate over who should do Erie County's borrowing has been around almost as long as the state-appointed control board.

It's been no different this year, as County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz and County Comptroller David Shenk prepare to sell the county's first general obligation bonds since 2006.

There are six legislators -- including three Republicans, one Democrat, one Conservative and an Independence Party member -- that have been outspoken in their opposition to the plan because of the higher costs Erie County will see if it borrows on its own.

Staff for Poloncarz have made the argument that returning to the bond market will help the county get better ratings from the Wall Street ratings agencies in the future, which in turn would mean cheaper interest rates.

A story in today's City & Region section looks at what analysts from the ratings agencies had to say about that.

Pressed by county legislators for written documentation that the ratings agencies look at whether the county has issued its own general obligation bonds when they determine what rating to give, the Poloncarz administration has pointed to a line in a ratings report from Standard & Poor's completed in December.

In it, analysts note that one of the risks facing Erie County is: "Market access risk for purposes of financing operations during low cash-flow periods."

So what does that sentence mean? It is a comment on the county's low cash flow.

Analysts for Standard & Poor's said that refers to the fact that the county must rely on short-term borrowing each year to cover some of its finances, a tactic many municipalities without a lot of extra cash use to cover expenses as they wait for revenue to arrive.

"What that's referring to is the fact that the county issues cash-flow notes each year to finance operations," said Lindsay Wilhelm, primary Erie County credit analyst for Standard & Poor's. "So basically, during low-cash periods, they'll have to go out to the market to just finance their day-to-day, and we see this a lot. This is definitely not unique to Erie County."

Why is that a risk? Because, in an extreme credit crisis, a county might not be able to borrow that money -- a scenario the analysts said they don't currently foresee.

"They might not be able to sell the notes if there was a real financial meltdown of epic proportions," said Richard Marino, an analyst for Standard & Poor's. "You can sell notes, even if you have weak credit, you can still sell them. It just costs you more."

-- Denise Jewell Gee

What's in a letter? More than what's said at the Erie County Legislature

The Erie County Legislature files away plenty of documents, letters and correspondence under the heading "receive and file" during its course of business.

Occasionally, a letter that quietly slips into the public record reveals a whole lot more than what is said at the public dais.

One of those missives was filed away last week during a Legislature Finance and Management Committee meeting. The four-page letter, sent from County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz to Legislator Joseph C. Lorigo in April, provides a glimpse into the evolving relationship between the Democratic county executive and members of the Legislature's minority coalition.

Continue reading "What's in a letter? More than what's said at the Erie County Legislature" »

Five Questions with Mark Poloncarz

Every Sunday, we'll publish a quick Q&A with someone from the local political world. Instead of touching on the latest in policy issues and proposed legislation, the intent is to catch a glimpse of the person behind the title. The interviews are done via email.

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Mark Poloncarz celebrates on election night in November. (Derek Gee/ Buffalo News)

Mark C. Poloncarz

The Basics:
Age: 44
Party: Democratic
Job Title: County Executive
Town: Buffalo, though Lackawanna will always be my hometown.
Education: Lackawanna High School, 1985; bachelor of arts, State University of New York at Buffalo, 1989; law degree, University of Toledo College of Law, 1997.
Salary: $103,428

Continue reading "Five Questions with Mark Poloncarz" »

Poloncarz signs cyberbullying law despite concerns

County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz has signed off on a new law banning cyberbullying against students in Erie County despite "serious doubts" over whether it can be adequately enforced.

The law, passed by the Erie County Legislature last month, makes electronic harassment and bullying against minors and students punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or up to a year in jail.

Poloncarz, in a letter to the Legislature, said that after speaking to "numerous law enforcement agents" he believes the law would be difficult to prosecute because it would be "too difficult to prove who electronically disseminated the harassing statement without an admission of guilt or eyewitness."

The county executive said he felt that "vetoing this legislation would send the wrong message to our community."

He urged legislators to work with the District Attorney's Office, local schools and Family Court to develop "enhanced and enforceable legislation."

"If we are serious about preventing cyberbullying, a method that includes parents and schools needs to be implemented, and unfortunately this law includes neither as part of the solution," Poloncarz said in a letter to legislators dated March 8.

The new local law was proposed by Legislator Edward A. Rath III, R-Amherst.

Read Poloncarz's letter to legislators here.

-- Denise Jewell Gee

Poloncarz takes 'Executive Report' to cable

You'll catch quite a bit of County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz this month on Time Warner Cable.

Poloncarz has made his government access debut as county executive in a half-hour program he recently taped called "The Executive Report."

He touches on the Buffalo Bills, the Erie County Industrial Development Agency, economic development and the adjustment to the new job in an interview with Brenda Alessi, a spokesman for Poloncarz said.

It'll air on Time Warner's Channel 22 once or twice a day for the next two weeks.

Poloncarz taped a similar program called the "Comptroller's Report" when he was county comptroller.

-- Denise Jewell Gee

Poloncarz picks Glascott to head Central Police Services

A Cheektowaga police captain who challenged Erie County Sheriff Timothy B. Howard in 2009 will be the next commissioner of Central Police Services.

County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz has appointed John A. Glascott to head the department.     Glascott, a Democrat, unsuccessfully ran for sheriff in 2009.

Glascott has worked for the Cheektowaga Police Department for more than 30 years. He began his law enforcement career as a corrections officer for the Attica Correctional Facility from 1973 to 1978. He started as a patrolman in Cheektowaga in 1978.

Central Police Services handles dispatching, training, crime lab analysis and other administrative functions.

Poloncarz submitted Glascott's name to the Legislature on Thursday.

-- Denise Jewell Gee

Poloncarz: Arts and cultural funding set for year

Night lights 05
The Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens in Lackawanna glows during its "Night Lights at the Gardens" event late last month. The light show continues through Saturday. (Robert Kirkham / Buffalo News)

Maybe next year.

That was the message Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz had for the Botanical Gardens in response to its request for operational funding from the county.

Poloncarz, in a letter to Botanical Gardens CEO David J. Swarts, called the Legislature's restoration of arts and cultural funding in the 2012 county budget a "remarkable achievement," but said there would be no more allocations for operational funding this year.

"Nevertheless, I regret to inform you that because of the fiscal challenges facing the county, I am unable to recommend to the Legislature additional funding for cultural organizations this year above what has been included in the adopted budget," Poloncarz wrote to Swarts on Feb. 12.

Continue reading "Poloncarz: Arts and cultural funding set for year" »

A $7 million sticking point

There's a $7 million question on the table, but county lawmakers aren't talking about it.

Not during a public meeting this morning, at least.

The county late last year agreed to pay $7 million to settle a lawsuit over a near-drowning that left a woman severely brain damaged.

At issue now is how the county should pay for it. County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, a Democrat, has proposed borrowing the money through a five-year judgement bond. Some Republicans in the Legislature want the county to pay cash for at least a portion of the payment to save on interest costs.

That's where discussions stalled. Poloncarz needs eight votes to approve a bond resolution. Democrats make up six of the 11-member Legislature. Without at least two legislators from the Republican-led minority caucus, the item can't get passed.

The issue provoked a lengthy discussion during a Finance and Management Committee meeting late last month. But this morning, when the committee met again, there was still no solution. This time, however, there was no discussion.

Legislator Timothy Hogues, D-Buffalo, who chairs the finance committee, kept the item on the table.

Why was it skipped over?

"We still haven't come to a resolution on that," Hogues said after the meeting.

The settlement payment is due in March.

--Denise Jewell Gee

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About Politics Now

Robert J. McCarthy

Robert J. McCarthy

A native of Schenectady, Robert J. McCarthy came to The Buffalo News in 1982 following a six-year stint at the Olean Times Herald. He is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and has been covering local, state and national politics since 1992.

rmccarthy@buffnews.com


Tom Precious

Tom Precious

Tom Precious joined The Buffalo News in 1997 as bureau chief at the state Capitol, where he covers everything from statewide politics and state government fiscal affairs to health care, environmental and municipal government matters. Prior to The News, he worked for news outlets in Albany and Washington, DC.

tprecious@buffnews.com


Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri is an Amherst native and has covered politics and government in upstate New York since 2003. She joined The Buffalo News in 2012 and covers City Hall.

@jillterreri | jterreri@buffnews.com


Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski, The Buffalo News Washington bureau chief, has reported from the nation's capital since 1989 after joining The News as a business reporter in 1984. A graduate of Syracuse University, Zremski is a former Nieman fellow in journalism at Harvard University. In 2007, he served as president of the National Press Club.

@JerryZremski | jzremski@buffnews.com

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