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Poloncarz looks back at pandemic, forward to the future in first State of County Address in two years

While looking back at the dread of the pandemic, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz spent much of his State of the County address Thursday looking forward, from rent subsidies to keep people in their homes to repairing some of the landmark Depression buildings in county parks.

The county executive spoke in a pre-recorded message posted to YouTube, with a county park in the background. In the past, the State of the County message has been a big production, with charts and graphs and a live audience. The last State of the County spectacle was in March of 2019 in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

In this year’s address, Poloncarz reflected on the 1,900 dead from COVID-19 and the efforts of county workers and health care workers. He said while it’s an accomplishment that half the county is now vaccinated, it “can’t stop there.”

“We need to vaccinate everyone,” he said. “The only way to return to the normal way of life we had before is to vaccinate all. If you have not been vaccinated, I ask you to please do so. Don't do it just for yourself, do it for your family, your neighbors and the team that is Erie County.”

Despite economic difficulties related to the pandemic, Poloncarz cited signs of growth. He said the Erie County Industrial Development Agency approved 22 projects that amounted to $900 million in private-sector development which produced 479 permanent jobs and nearly 2,000 construction jobs.

Poloncarz also used the speech to show architectural renderings of what's coming in parks, local economic development projects like a vast new building on the old Bethlehem Steel site in Lackawanna, now known as Renaissance Commerce Park, and the conversion of the old airport in Angola to a center for the county's agricultural sector.

According to Poloncarz, the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation will be teaming with the county to bring new bike trails and vistas to Isle View Park.

“We will construct the Playground for All at Chestnut Ridge Park, where we just re-lit for the first time in 22 years the tennis courts,” he added, “and we will invest more than $2 million dollars in restoration work in our history 1930s era WPA structures.”

Poloncarz also said he's pushing back against an expected eviction flood with new federal dollars, as he had to cover rent during the pandemic's worst days.

“For many, this was a lifeline that ensured that they would not lose their home,” he said. “Soon, we will be expanding the program for renters as we've received an additional $19 million dollars to further help tenants and landlords, thereby preventing homelessness and stabilizing our economy.”

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.