BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Local elected leaders came together Monday to unveil the "RENEW" Plan for Erie County.
The “Reinvest in Erie’s Neighborhoods and Employ our Workforce" (RENEW) Plan is a re-investment and spending plan utilizing American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding awarded to Erie County. Officials say the plan was presented to the Erie County Legislature this week and utilizes an initial award of over $89 million.
A release says the plan was carefully designed with guidance from the U.S. Department of Treasury.
The Plan has been carefully designed in accordance with guidance from the U.S. Department of Treasury to align with the federal government’s goals of investing in state and local governments who lost revenue and made cuts due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Around $47 million is available for general county spending based on the Treasury Department's revenue loss formula. Around $41 million is available to be spent on designated ARP categories which includes: water, sewer and broadband projects, premium pay, and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Officials say the RENEW Plan will make the following investments possible:
- Capital Improvements: A number of upcoming or overdue capital projects are funded in the Plan, including an additional $5 million in pay-as-you-go highway funding, a new highway barn for the Harlem District, repairs to the façade of the District Attorney’s Office, and the SUNY Erie City Campus roof.
- Community Aid: The COVID-19 pandemic created financial challenges for many areas’ institutions. The Plan includes support for entities traditionally supported by Erie County including the Botanical Gardens, Convention Center, Naval and Servicemember’s Park, and the Workforce Investment Board as well as a wide array of support for improvements in various municipalities.
- Business Promotion: The federal government provided two additional rounds of Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) Loans (convertible to grants) in late 2020 and early 2021. With a strong economic recovery already underway, the Plan calls for a promotion-based approach to encourage local shopping and small business support, rather than direct cash assistance, with $2.08 million in small business promotion allocated in the Plan for this purpose.
- Park System Investment: The Plan makes major investments of approximately $14.3 million in Erie County parks to ensure they are in the best possible shape for residents and also invests in some long-overdue projects including the rehabilitation of the historic Wendt Beach mansion and stables. Among other targeted projects are Chestnut Ridge Casino accessibility improvements, several Chestnut Ridge Park comfort station renovations, restoration of the Como Lake Park Lighthouse, shelter and comfort station renovations at Ellicott Creek Park, restroom renovations at Grover Cleveland golf course, and shelter and amphitheater renovations at Emery Park, among other projects.
- Sewer and Water Investment: The Plan proposes using $31.3 million from the first tranche of ARP funding for projects related to the Erie County Sewer Districts (“ECSDs”). The infrastructure of the seven ECSDs includes over 5.8 million linear feet of sanitary sewer pipe, approximately 100 pumping stations, six water resource recovery facilities (i.e. wastewater treatment plants), and other appurtenances servicing portions of more than two dozen municipalities in Erie County. The county Division of Sewerage Management has identified significant needs for investment in this infrastructure throughout all seven ECSDs, with projects targeting infrastructure and operations enhancement, including energy reductions and pumping station eliminations; physical plant improvements at ECSD water resource recovery facilities and pumping stations; pumping and process equipment rehabilitation or replacements within numerous ECSD facilities; and sewer and manhole rehabilitation/replacement projects throughout all seven ECSDs.
According to officials the plan will also advance efforts to protect public health and restore the county workforce which includes the following:
- Office of Health Equity: The Plan establishes staffing and budget lines for a new Office of Health Equity within the Erie County Department of Health. This Office is directly aligned with the stated goals of the ARP State and Local Recovery Fund’s mission to address disparities in Public Health Outcomes and will have a staff of 9 individuals including Epidemiologists.
- Position Restorations: Departments and independent offices submitted requests for restorations of some of the 287 cut positions, of which 107 were honored in the Plan. As the county’s financial situation improves and the economy continues to recover, providing departments and independent offices the resources they need to serve the public is a top priority that can be responsibly funded.
- New Positions: Based on lessons learned from the pandemic and to meet new operational goals, 26 additional new positions are included in the resolutions. 10 new positions are added to the Parks Department, along with new staff in the Division of Emergency Medical Services, Cancer Services Program, Purchasing, and the District Attorney’s Office.
- Budget Line Restorations: Many departments and independent offices included cuts to their budget lines as part of the 2021 adopted budget instructions. With the rapid return to normal operations, departments and independent offices have requested restorations to various lines in order to meet the public’s needs.
- Premium Pay for Essential Workers: Many county employees continued to report to work in person throughout the worst of the pandemic including the critical early days when little was known about the COVID-19 virus. In order to compensate these employees, the Plan provides a premium pay bonus of $5.00 per hour for every hour worked onsite from March 16th 2020 to June 26th 2020. Those dates align with the county’s shift to a work-from-home policy for non-essential personnel. Per federal guidance, only employees who earned less than 150% of the county’s median income in 2020 ($116,400), will be eligible for this premium pay. Based on initial calculations from the Department of Personnel, $6 million is set aside for these payments, which are aligned with U.S. Treasury Department guidelines for allowable use of these funds.
“The RENEW Plan addresses areas of critical need in Erie County and will be instrumental in our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. We are using this funding to protect our most precious resource, Lake Erie, and also to improve our infrastructure and build a better, healthier and more equitable community. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we are seizing it to create a better future for Erie county residents." said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.