BUFFALO, N.Y. — Prior to a vote on a roughly $124 million spending plan Thursday, the Erie County Minority Conference introduced an amendment to put it off for 30 days while opening a public comment period.
"It doesn't kill any other proposal that's been put forth,” Erie County Republican Legislator Chris Greene said. “It just provides the taxpayers who fund this an opportunity to have their voice heard.”
The conference said the Democratic county executive and legislature majority did not include them in decisions about distributing the funds that include $90 million from the American Recovery Plan.
"The four of us here represent 350,000 Erie County residents," Minority Leader Joe Lorigo said. "That is a huge chunk of people and for the county executive and the majority caucus to say that they don't need us, that our constituents don't count as much as theirs, is insulting and short-sighted."
The amendment offered suggestions, including attracting an airline to create a regional hub at the airport, creating a port for Great Lakes cruises, high-speed rail, various grant programs for restaurants, nonprofits and municipalities and expanding sewer capacity.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take federal dollars and make positive changes that will have a lasting effect not only in Erie County, but in Western New York as a whole," Lorigo said.
The majority took a short recess to consider the amendment before ultimately voting it down and approving the spending plan. The minority pointed out there was only two weeks of deliberation for money that doesn't need to be allocated until the end of 2024, but Legislature Chair April Baskin said there were important job and budget restorations, infrastructure projects and sewer stability funding that couldn't wait.
"These are things that are very, very important to residents in Erie County and sometimes time is a luxury to people who have time, but there are a lot of residents in Erie County who are hurting," she said.
The minority also argued 142 jobs included in the plan create $8.8 million in recurring costs that will put the county in fiscal trouble when the stimulus is gone. However, Baskin said the majority of those jobs had been in the budget until they were eliminated because of pandemic financial concerns.
"There's not a whole bunch of new positions," she said. "We're restoring positions that were cut. We have created a couple of new projects and opportunities for employment, but it will not be something that is a burden to the taxpayers."
Baskin does not believe some of the ideas from legislators across the aisle can be funded with American Recovery Act funds, but others deserve consideration. She pointed to another $86 million in federal stimulus is still coming to the county.
In a statement, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said his RENEW plan supports small businesses, the restoration of county positions, major investments in the county parks system and the creation of an Office of Health Equity.
He criticized the minority caucus for what he called "delaying tactics to stall approval of the plan."