By Kevin R. Hardwick
4th District County Legislator
The world has changed in the last month. The pandemic now dominates every news cycle and almost every personal conversation. Our response to this crisis will go a long way toward determining the kind of community we will have once life returns to some semblance of normal.
For the time being, we all have to determine what role we can play in combatting the virus. For some, this is obvious. Health care workers and first responders are on the frontlines of this battle and have never been more appreciated by us all. Add to them the many grocery store workers, utility workers, truck drivers, delivery persons, reporters and others who have kept our society functioning, and we have much for which to be grateful.
Elected officials are used to being on the news, leading the charge, announcing grand plans and proposals. But we are now at war and in a war, politicians need to step back and let the generals lead.
Fortunately, from what I have observed, County Executive Mark Poloncarz, Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein and their team are up to the task. My job is to make sure they have the resources to get the job done and get out of their way. That is why last month I implored Dr. Burstein to ask for whatever additional funds she needed to supplement her budget to save as many lives as possible.
The $5 million that the legislature subsequently approved in a special session will hopefully be enough. If it isn’t, we will need to determine if more is required. Either way, I trust the money will be well spent. It makes no sense, however, for legislators to micromanage the Health Department in the midst of this crisis.
We will have a much larger role, of course, in picking up the pieces once the immediate crisis passes. The pandemic and resulting quarantine have blown holes in budgets from the federal level all the way down to the smallest village. In Erie County, we are seeing sales tax revenue plummet as businesses are shuttered and people do not spend money. This will prove disastrous for Erie County as we will lose tens of millions of dollars in sales tax, our largest source of local revenue. This will also impact the cities, towns, villages and school districts in Erie County with whom we share our sales tax revenue.
The decisions we make regarding how to plug the budget gaps will have great consequences and we need to get it right.
Each municipality will have to make their own decision. In the county, we will have to choose among some combination of cuts, increased taxes and borrowing. These choices will be difficult, as putting more people out of work will only exacerbate our economic problem and increasing taxes will be adding insult to injury to those who have already lost their jobs or are on fixed incomes. This is where the legislature must play a major role in representing the wishes of our constituents.
Until then, however, we need to let the medical professionals do their jobs, because we cannot solve our financial problems until we resolve our health care emergency.
If you have thoughts you would like to share, I would love to hear from you. I can be contacted by phone at 716-858-8672 or via email at [email protected].