Effecting a Culture Change in the Comptroller’s Office
Over the past two years, we have seen a considerable degradation and real loss of talent in the Comptroller’s Office. It has become a haven for failed political candidates, lawsuits and improper pay raises. My team will conduct themselves in a professional manner and uphold county policies and procedures while producing factually accurate and detailed work. I will not run out hardworking employees and there will be no toxic work culture. I think the company we keep reflects our own values – my team will reflect my commitment to good government, sound policy, and hard work.
Working Cooperatively with Local Governments on Cooperative Measures
to Save Taxpayer Dollars
Using my decades of professional experience in public policy, I will work cooperatively with local government partners to conduct studies and analyses of ways we can further collaborate on shared services and initiatives to provide public services more efficiently and effectively. There are many avenues including back office operations and tasks where the county and our local colleagues may be able to work together cooperatively in ways that reduce costs, improve services and deliver better outcomes to the taxpayers and residents we serve.
Erie County has participated in New York State’s Shared Services Plan since its inception in the 2018 budget. This planning can include all towns, villages, and school districts in Erie County who opt-in, with significant cost-savings and incentives for creating new solutions to some of the same problems. So often, we see lack of communication or duplication of services which add to governmental “red tape”. I believe the government, on all levels, should work together to increase efficiency and save costs for taxpayers. My office will conduct more proactive outreach and offer policy ideas. Erie County has an urban core, growing suburbs, and vast rural communities – there will be no one size fits all solution, but I believe the Comptroller’s office could be the place where many good ideas begin.
Analysis of Departmental Budgeting Countywide including that of Independent Elected Officials
My office will not pledge to do any sort of “Defund the Police” analysis because, to put it plainly and clearly, I have no plans of ever defunding the police. But as Comptroller, I will certainly offer our services and provide analysis of budgets including those of the County Clerk, the District Attorney, and the Sheriff’s Office along with the County Executive, the Legislature, and even my own expenditures. Working with the Division of Budget and Management, I believe we can create a cohesive plan for continuation of important services and programs while also monitoring those offices that have annual overtime variances or repeat vacant positions. A budget is a moral document, but it’s also a strategic plan – we should be aiming to have the most accurate estimations possible, without a political or partisan lens. I will clock these reports into the Legislature so they become public documents and offer analysis as requested at Committee meetings.
Examine Cost Savings via Inter-Municipal Cooperation in the Refuse/Waste Disposal Process
People care that their garbage is picked up as quickly and cleanly as possible. But once it leaves their curb, most residents do not particularly care where it ends up.
Erie County’s localities feature a mix of processes by which waste is disposed or recycled. In some municipalities, the city/village/town provides municipal garbage and recycling collection/disposal as part of the tax levy (i.e. no additional costs to the resident). In other municipalities, property owners have to obtain their own waste disposal by hiring and paying a private company to pick up their garbage at the curb. Additionally there are also places where residents can drive to a transfer station and pay to dispose of their solid waste. Some municipalities also have special taxing districts for garbage.
The per ton cost of disposing of garbage continues to climb. Rather than cutting their own deals for garbage disposal, municipalities might save substantial taxpayer dollars by banding together to obtain volume discounts on the disposal of household waste. The county would be the logical vehicle to facilitate this type of cooperation.
In addition, largely due to events in China and the recycling landscape, local governments are struggling with the costs and options for recycling. Several years ago, the County proposed an idea to create a countywide lawn/yard waste composting facility where local governments could transfer and dispose of yard waste (grass clippings, leaves, etc.) to be composted. I intend to examine these issues to see if local governments would consider creating a solid waste/refuse disposal process to address the issues of garbage and recycling and the costs to taxpayers.
We know that the time to act on environmental issues was probably decades ago. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t take prudent and necessary steps now. We banned microbeads before the rest of the country. We have fought big polluters like Tonawanda Coke and won. Love Canal is not far in terms of location or memory. With the world’s most abundant supply of fresh water so close and so many other natural resources abundant, Erie County can and should be a model for how we can responsibly recycle and save money in the process. Working collaboratively on issues of electronics and hazardous material recycling will improve environmental and public health alike.
Examine Storm and Waste Water Discharges with an Eye on Opportunities for Collaboration
For years, local governments and the county have grappled with the costs of maintaining and upgrading waste water treatment plants and leaking sewer pipes, as well as the problem of storm drains and sanitary drains during high rain events draining human waste and E.coli into local waterways and backing up sewers into people’s basements. Some local governments, like Erie County, are utilizing American Rescue Plan federal funds to help address maintenance or capital construction on sewer projects. However, there is still a pressing need to address the combination of untreated sewage and stormwater runoff being dumped into local waterways during high rain events. As reported by Investigative Post, for instance, the Buffalo Sewer Authority has plans in place to reduce stormwater and sewage overflows that will cost $380 million and take until 2034 to complete. This does not include the wholesale replacement of aging sewer lines. My office will study this issue and work with interested local governments that maintain and operate their own sewer plants and lines to determine opportunities for cooperation and collaboration on addressing these issues.
Support for Health Care Professionals in the Fight Against COVID
In March of 2020, the County Executive requested the Legislature appropriate $5 million for immediate COVID-related expenses. This was of great benefit because it meant that the County was able to quickly secure contracts to stockpile PPE and other consumables that were difficult to procure, and at lower costs. Earlier this summer, a warehouse fire quickly depleted a portion of ECMC’s PPE that was stored for later use; Erie County, because of its excellent planning and streamlined process, was able to assist to help make up for this loss.
My administration will continue to work with our health partners and all departments in County government to ensure that payments to suppliers and first responders fighting the COVID pandemic are made efficiently, when requested, without theatrics or empty rhetoric. I also will not waive fines for those violators who verbally abuse our health inspectors or law enforcement. And I will expect my employees to uphold the highest possible standards relating to public health and safety in their workplace. I am committed to seeing Erie County out of this pandemic in sound financial shape while providing the resources and leadership our community needs from this office in an expeditious manner.
Financial Audit of the County’s IGT Payments to ECMC
Annually, Erie County government provides tens of millions of dollars in payments to ECMC for indigent care under a federally-mandated process called “Intergovernmental Transfer” – IGT. The County is legally required under 2004, 2006 and 2009 agreements with ECMC to provide an annual subsidy to the hospital totaling at least $16.2 million, or the cost of IGT obligations, whichever is greater. Over the past 8 years, IGT payments have grown substantially, sometimes totaling over $40 million. These payments are for ECMC’s care and treatment of indigent patients at the hospital and at the Terrace View nursing home who do not have Medicaid, Medicare or private health insurance.
As Erie County Comptroller and someone who has advocated for the hospital’s financial solvency in the past, I firmly believe that the value of our local healthcare system is immeasurable. We need to make sure our resources are being accurately and wisely invested; the supplemental payments Erie County provides are vital to the sustainability of the hospital, and I believe Erie County has a responsibility to ensure availability of quality healthcare for all residents that is both accessible and affordable. Erie County Medical Center is Western New York’s only tier 1 trauma center and I believe the government has a duty to ensure the fiscal health of the organization so the public health never suffers.
At the same time, we owe it to Erie County taxpayers to insure that the IGT payments are not excessive. ECMC should receive the amount of funds dictated by the county’s agreements with them, no more and no less.
Ensuring Daycare Access and Affordability
For many years, Erie County has provided day care financial assistance to working families who meet eligibility criteria. The County provides low-income child care assistance to employed families who earn 200% or less of the Federal Poverty Level. Parents contribute toward the cost of care based on a sliding income scale. For the period through May 31, 2022, the Federal Poverty Level for a family of four is $53,000.
Due to the costs of daycare and struggles experienced by working parents, Erie County also participates in the Workforce Development Institute (WDI) Child Care Subsidy Facilitated Enrollment Program. The WDI day care program helps working families apply for and receive financial assistance to help pay for daycare. For instance, for the period through May 31, 2022, the WDI income eligibility level for assistance is $72,875 (as contrasted with the Federal Poverty Level of $53,000). For many years, despite WDI funds being available and working families seeking and needing such assistance, the Erie County Department of Social Services has not fully appropriated all WDI funds.
The COVID-19 pandemic revealed stark gaps and problems with daycare for families, both in the costs and affordability of daycare, problems recruiting and retaining daycare employees (due to lower compensation), and the number and capacity of daycare providers/centers.
As Comptroller, I will conduct a review/audit of the daycare and WDI Child Care Subsidy Facilitated Enrollment Program to help determine ways in which all available funds can be expended to assist working families with daycare subsidies. This has the related benefit of also assisting daycare providers/centers to remain open and operational by providing funding.[ps2id id=’9′ target=”/]
Holding Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation (WROTB) Accountable
The gaming corporation which operates Batavia Downs racetrack, is owned by the 17 western-most counties in New York and the cities of Buffalo and Rochester. For several years, the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the New York State Gaming Commission and the State Comptroller’s Office have been investigating or auditing WROTB over a range of issues. Due to these issues, and other concerns about pay and health care benefits for WROTB board members, in 2020, the Erie County Legislature replaced its existing 10-year appointee to the board of directors of WROTB. The corporation’s chief operating officer was fired in December 2020, allegedly for cooperating with federal and state investigators, and is suing WROTB. And recently, the State Comptroller issued two audits which were highly critical of WROTB management, its board and its practices.
I commit to ensuring transparency and accountability. We cannot afford “pay to play” scenarios or high priced, “Cadillac” health benefit plans at the expense of hard-working taxpayers. As Comptroller, I will advise the Legislature and offer my own reports regarding the management of the WROTB; the Legislature makes an appointment to the Board and as the body that provides oversight, they deserve well informed analysis which my office will provide.