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Proposal to roll back county exec's emergency powers held for more discussion

Erie County / YouTube
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz in a video message urging continued compliance with COVID-19 health and safety rules.

Erie County legislators hoping to pull back County Executive Mark Poloncarz’s COVID emergency powers will need to wait longer to vote on the matter.

The Legislature granted Poloncarz emergency powers early in the pandemic so he could be able to make quick decisions on COVID-related needs without going through the usual legislative processes, some of which would work too slowly for urgent business.

One year later, some among the Legislature feel those powers are no longer needed. The Minority Caucus is backing a proposal to revoke them. During a work session prior to Thursday morning's legislative meeting, the sponsors learned the resolution was destined for the Legislature's Finance and Management Committee.

Credit Chris Caya / WBFO News
Erie County Legislature Minority Leader Joseph Lorigo is leading the effort to discontinue the county executive's emergency COVID-19 powers.

”The county executive, for the past year, has had complete control over spending, and contracts. And it's time that that changes. We are not in an emergency situation,” said Minority Leader Joseph Lorigo, who pushed unsuccessfully for a vote at Thursday's legislatuve session. “COVID is still here, but we've learned how to live with it. We've learned to adapt to it. And it's living in a pandemic, not reacting to it as as an emergency situation.”

Democratic Legislator Kevin Hardwick commended the minority for introducing the resolution and said he hopes to feel comfortable with voting for its approval in the near future. But he was among those favoring committee discussion. He also recommends a representative of the Erie County Health Department be present to address questions by the committee.

“I think the key to this resolution is, what's an emergency?” Hardwick said. “And I think the minority would agree with me on that. I want the Health Department to explain to me, when does it become an emergency? When does it become routine?”

Lorigo, in a last attempt to bring the resolution up for a vote, said legislators need to have more say in how Erie County's forthcoming federal relief money will be spent, or not spent.

“We're about to be getting $178 million in additional federal relief funds. And I think we have a role to play. And our constituents expect us to come to the table and do that role,” he said.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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