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Poloncarz: 'I'm trying to avoid having to lay off hundreds and hundreds of workers'

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz during his daily briefing Wednesday.

Erie County's fiscal picture continues to darken, with Washington seemingly unwilling to provide a stimulus package for state and local governments.

County Executive Mark Poloncarz has been saying for weeks that the county is squeezed between the astronomic costs of dealing with the COVID-19 virus and the collapsed revenue picture of an economy in freefall. Speaking at his briefing Wednesday, he was asked about the possibilities of hazard pay for public workers.

"Right now, I'm trying to avoid a plan where I'm going to be laying off and cutting permanently jobs. So we're facing a $200 million potential shortfall," Poloncarz said. "I know that a lot of employees would wish for hazard pay, but right now, I'm trying to avoid having to lay off hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of workers."

The situation is so dire that a letter to Washington seeking help was signed by the leaders of county government, from Poloncarz to his frequent critic, Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw, along with District Attorney John Flynn, Sheriff Tim Howard and Legislature Chair April Baskin.

"We could probably survive fine the next few weeks," Poloncarz continued, "but if we're going into the middle of May and June and we're not getting any assistance, then, yes, we're going to be implementing a plan which will, unfortunately, have to start to shut down services and lay off employees. Do I want to do it? No. But, I can't pay for things I don't have cash for."

Poloncarz said there is no point trying to borrow money, since he can't pay back a loan and that would trigger a default, destroying the county's credit rating.

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.
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