Erie County Republican legislators want end to emergency powers for Poloncarz

Posted at 1:44 PM, Jan 31, 2022

BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — Once again, some Erie County legislators are calling for an end to the COVID-19 State of Emergency in the county.

Members of the Republican minority say Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz should “relinquish” his powers and end the state of emergency order.

Those lawmakers are saying it's time for the full legislature to decide on future actions.

Joe Lorigo, legislator, republican minority leader.

“He is the only county executive across New York State that has never relinquished those powers,” said Republican Minority Leader Joe Lorigo.

Members of the county’s legislature Republican caucus say they county executive has continued a state of emergency for the last two years and demand he stop.

“If the State of Emergency was warranted in Erie County, our numbers would be better than our neighbors around us, but they're not,” stated Republican Legislator Chris Greene.

The Republicans are submitting two resolutions that call on Poloncarz to relinquish his emergency powers immediately and return the power to the legislature to make future decisions.

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Erie County Republican Chris Greene.

“We have a county executive who is unwilling to listen to members of the legislature when they don't fit his narrative,” Lorgio stated.

Minority Leader Lorigo says Poloncarz rejected a request to purchase rapid tests for residents in December.

“The county executive and my democratic colleagues rejected that proposal and more than doubled the rate of death in Erie County as compared to Monroe County,” stated Lorigo.

John Mills, republican Erie County lawmaker.

“My constituents really resent the fact that we have the county executive running the show without the input of the legislature,” remarked Republican Legislator John Mills. “His policies are crushing the restaurant business.”

“We have to understand that there are still people dying of this every day. In fact, there are eight Erie County residents everyday dying from COVID,” replied Democratic Legislator Lisa Chimera.

Chimera chair the county legislature's health and human services committee.

She says Republicans floated a similar request in November, just as Omicron was on the rise, making a state of emergency necessary.

Lisa Chimera, democratic Erie County lawmaker, in Zoom interview.

“Those executive powers allow the county executive to purchase two get vaccine clinics out to the public, to have testing sites, to look at the data and perhaps have a pop up testing site the next day and I think that has been extremely beneficial for Erie County,” Chimera explained.

Chimera and the county executive's office say there are many counties in the state that have utilized the executive powers.

7 News reached out to the county executive's office for a response, but told Poloncarz was not available for an interview.

However, Senior Reporter Eileen Buckley received an email from spokesman Peter Anderson.

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Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.

Anderson wrote Erie County is not the only county that's had emergency powers in effect throughout the pandemic.

In fact, Monroe and Wyoming counties did reinstate a state of emergency this past fall as COVID cases spiked.

State law also allows for Poloncarz to have emergency powers — a law the county legislature cannot change.

But Anderson also pointed to benefits of the State of Emergency.

"Some of the reasons to continue the state of emergency include; it keeps Erie County eligible for any federal disaster-related funding that may be forthcoming (such as the ARP funding, or if another tranche is forthcoming); without that funding, many of the costs Erie County incurs on the pandemic would not be reimbursable. So having emergency powers continually in place ensures that Erie County will be eligible for any such funding.

Having these powers in place also allows the administration to move quickly in responding to the pandemic, including when accepting/distributing/coordinating COVID-response items or programs (tests, PPE distribution, vaccination sites, related projects) which would otherwise require legislative approval for each individual action, greatly delaying response to the pandemic as the legislature only meets once a week, if that. If that was the case, every single contract for every single COVID-related service/event would have to have legislature approval on a once-a-week basis, delaying the response significantly. I think we all agree that a quick, coordinated response to get these materials in the public’s hands as fast as possible is best for all and having emergency powers in place greatly aids in that."

Peter Anderson, spokesman

Anderson stated the "emergency powers are only in place to promote public health and safety and facilitate the county response" saying that is the county executive's number one priority.