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Niagara County Legislature: McNall sets out policy agenda for 2018

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Wed, Jan 17th 2018 09:20 am
Niagara County Legislature Chairman Wm. Keith McNall pauses to acknowledge colleagues' applause at the end of his 2018 State of the County address. McNall delivered the policy-heavy speech Tuesday night in Lockport. The annual government speech focused heavily on economic development, as well as directing preparations for further Lake Ontario flooding and urging greater cross-government cooperation.
Niagara County Legislature Chairman Wm. Keith McNall pauses to acknowledge colleagues' applause at the end of his 2018 State of the County address. McNall delivered the policy-heavy speech Tuesday night in Lockport. The annual government speech focused heavily on economic development, as well as directing preparations for further Lake Ontario flooding and urging greater cross-government cooperation.
Employee conduct, lakeshore flooding, economic development headline speech
By Christian W. Peck
Niagara County Public Information Officer
Niagara County Legislature Chairman Wm. Keith McNall, R-Lockport, delivered his State of the County message to colleagues at the Niagara County Courthouse on Tuesday - his third since being elected head of county government in 2016.
In that wide-ranging speech, McNall laid out policy directives for most of the county government's departments - telling agency leaders to take strong initiatives to cut government waste and work more cooperatively with each other and nearby governments in the name of greater efficiency and better services.
A sizable portion of the speech focused on economic development - an issue McNall said he expects to be hot in the year ahead, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average breaking 26,000 for the first time the same day he delivered the county policy address.
"Over the weekend, I watched CNBC. They have increased their GDP forecast for 2018. For one thing, for the first time since 2005, the U.S. has enjoyed three consecutive quarters of GDP growth above 3 percent," McNall told fellow lawmakers, before instructing Economic Development Commissioner Sam Ferraro to take firm steps to seize on a roaring national economy.
"It is this government's firm directive to you: Seize this moment, where our nation is enjoying strong economic growth, and make sure our county is participating," McNall told Ferraro. "It is our expectation, here in the legislature, that the Center for Economic Development utilize its resources to help businesses locate here in 2018, to help existing businesses grow their payrolls and invest in new plant and equipment."
Praising Ferraro's four decades in the economic development field, much of it spent in Niagara County government, McNall noted 54 meetings with existing Niagara County companies were already yielding benefits against a backdrop of a national bull economy. "Three of those companies ... have initiated projects that will result in $39.9 million in capital investment - and the creation or retention of 1,440 jobs. And another company is considering a $40 million expansion by itself - and the creation of 14 new jobs with 87 more jobs retained."
McNall also hit on a recurring theme, challenging Ferraro and Director of Employment & Training Donald Jablonski to "link arms" to tie their agencies' missions together in the coming year.
One of the earliest applause lines of the night came when McNall singled out Emergency Management Director Jonathan Schultz for his efforts during 2017's Lake Ontario flooding. McNall praised Schultz for devising plans for dealing with the crisis ahead of time and seeing them through to implementation.
"Please continue to prepare," McNall told Schultz after the applause subsided. "When we discussed your goals for 2018, I know you listed planning for potential Lake Ontario flooding with your counterparts in other counties and at the state as your first priority. You also spoke of pre-staging equipment for a faster response. This is the right attitude. I encourage you to follow that course - but I think every member of this legislature hopes that it proves time spent needlessly this year."
McNall also urged the county to explore whether there is value in undertaking a large-scale capital project totaling more than $6 million in energy-efficient upgrades to virtually every county building that would include installing new light fixtures, HVAC systems, and windows, and utilizing New York Power Authority relicensing fees to fund the project. The costs of the project would be offset by savings in utility outlays.
The legislature chairman also noted the county's push against opioid dependency was bearing fruit - and urged the county's Mental Health Department to do more.
"In 2018, I hope sincerely you will develop an aggressive plan to expand the availability of home and community-based behavioral health services - and to see that third-party payers cover as much of the cost of these services as possible," McNall said. "I also hope you work closely with the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services to expand our response to the opioid crisis, including adding additional Narcan training for our local first responders."
McNall said recent culture-wide concerns were prompting him to urge county government to take up thorny issues like harassment and to devise training for management and employees in dealing with employee complaints about other employees' conduct.
"Government's cost is easily increased by lawsuits that are ill-defended," McNall said. "But lawsuits do happen, and no defense can protect us from suits where we are, in fact, culpable. Given the wide-ranging challenges impacting the broader culture, and the need to ensure our employees are all treated with dignity and respect, I would challenge (human resources) to develop and implement training to address these pressing issues of employee conduct. Our employees deserve to come to a safe work environment; as government leaders, it is our responsibility to ensure our department heads and our staffs react appropriately to concerns."
McNall also noted the county occupies strong position, with the lowest property tax rates in at least four decades, and praised County Manager Rick Updegrove for delivering back to back tax-cutting budgets.
"In 2018, we already have a plan, and it's a strong one," McNall said. "I urge all of the department heads here tonight to take the opportunity to ponder 2019. To make good decisions all year long, so that we can continue to deliver good, effective, efficient government at a cost savings. This government is producing good policy and good results. I challenge you all to keep it that way."

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