March 11 is one-year anniversary of passage of landmark legislation; ARP first-tranche funding of $89.2 million spurs Erie County RENEW Plan with investments totaling $123.7 million
√ Poloncarz introduces Kelly Wofford, director of office of health equity; created under RENEW Plan, office helps to ensure underserved county residents have equal access to preventative health care
On Wednesday, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz provided an update on Erie County investments taking shape under his administration’s RENEW Plan, one year after the passage of President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan for State and Local Recovery (ARP), which provided counties and cities nationwide with funding for a wide variety of investments to aid in recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first tranche of ARP funding, received last year and totaling over $89.2 million, spurred the Poloncarz administration’s development of the “Reinvest in Erie’s Neighborhoods and Employ our Workforce (RENEW)” plan, which augmented the ARP funding with $34.4 million in county-share funding made possible due to New York state’s restoration of anticipated budget cuts of 20% after NYS received its own ARP assistance. A total of more than $123.7 million in RENEW Plan projects, programs and improvements is now being planned or already underway for Erie County operations and across numerous municipalities.
“Thanks to President Biden, Senate Majority Leader Schumer, and Congressman Higgins and his Democratic congressional counterparts, Erie County and America have an opportunity to invest in our communities, improve our infrastructure and build better, stronger neighborhoods and relationships for the future. Along with programs that improve our workforce, infrastructure and economy, we are focusing on projects that will leave a healthier Erie County for future residents,” Poloncarz said. “This ARP funding presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make major one-time investments in our county, which we have done and will continue to do. Water and sewer infrastructure, parks, local communities and small businesses, ongoing COVID-19 response measures, broadband buildout and more have all seen or will soon see significant investments as a result of the plan and the ARP funding that has reinvigorated Erie County.”
Federal guidelines permitted counties accepting ARP funding to use it only in certain categories. These included responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency and its negative economic impacts; responding to workers performing essential work during COVID-19 by providing premium pay; restoring positions and programs cut due to loss of revenue from the pandemic; providing any government service relative to the most recent fiscal year prior to COVID-19; and making necessary investments in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure.
Poloncarz was joined at the announcement by Kelly Wofford, director of Erie County’s newly formed office of health equity. Made possible through ARP funding and the RENEW plan, the office was officially created by the County Legislature’s passage of the “Erie County Health Equity Act” in December 2021, which was signed into law on Jan. 13. The office will help to ensure that all underserved residents, marginalized communities, and communities of color have equal access to preventative health care, and provide every resident the opportunity to attain their full health potential.
“The importance of equity in access to preventative health care cannot be overstated in relation to its importance in the overall health of a community,” Wofford said. “When we work to help residents live healthier lives, we are building a healthier Erie County for the long term. I look forward to working with the county executive to better serve county residents.”
The office of health equity’s operational budget and staff of nine are fully funded through the RENEW Plan. Elsewhere, the plan’s workforce reinvestment component included the restoration of 107 positions that were cut due to the pandemic’s impact, as per ARP guidance. In addition, five positions in the county’s emergency medical services department were created for direct health and 911 response, and 11 positions were created between the district attorney’s office, the purchasing department and cancer services program.
Poloncarz presented a lengthy list of projects at county facilities and in the community that have benefited from RENEW Plan investments, with more underway or in the planning phase. Included among RENEW Plan major capital projects in Erie County’s Public Works Department are:
√ A $4.5 million investment for a new Convention Center façade, with work to begin on April 1;
√ A $5 million investment in the Botanical Gardens’ expansion project;
√ $5 million in additional pay-as-you-go road repair funding. $4.1 million of this funding was used in 2021, and another $860,000 has been used thus far in 2022;
√ A $5 million investment in the construction of new DPW highway barns; and
√ $10 million allocated to repairing county facilities at 50 Delaware Ave. (the district attorney’s office) and at SUNY Erie City Campus to repair façades and replace falling tiles.
Major investments are also being made across the 12,000-acre Erie County Parks system as well, with $14.3 million allocated for a wide range of projects across most parks. This represents the largest one-year parks investment since WPA projects were conducted in the 1930s.
Erie County Parks’ RENEW Plan projects already completed include:
Erie County Parks’ RENEW Plan projects still to be completed include:
“Public infrastructure, along with our parks, are two of the most heavily used components of our county inventory and need to be preserved, maintained and improved for the future,” Poloncarz said. “My administration has always invested in these areas and, through American Rescue Plan assistance, as implemented by the RENEW Plan, we are able to broaden our focus and have a greater positive impact on these areas. We are doing work under the plan that will be appreciated by residents for generations.”
Other RENEW Plan investments happening in Erie County include:
√ Sewer and water investment: The plan will use $31.3 million from the first tranche of ARP funding for projects related to the Erie County Sewer Districts. The infrastructure of the seven ECSDs includes over 5.8 million linear feet of sanitary sewer pipe, approximately 100 pumping stations, six water resource recovery facilities and other appurtenances servicing portions of more than two-dozen municipalities in Erie County. Projects are planned for all seven ECSDs, with about $15 million worth of projects ongoing now.
√ ECHC Healthcare Careers Grant, created with ARP funding: This Workforce Investment Board Program was initially funded by Erie County, now ARP assistance will augment the training of new health care professionals. This is a $.6 million ARP investment paired with an additional $1.3 million from the 2022 Erie County budget; 219 individuals are currently being trained as LPHs, RN and surgical technicians, with more to be trained soon.
√ Continued investments in small business: over $2.8 million additional investment in the successful Shop716 and local small business promotion during the 2021 holiday season, with continued advertising in 2022.
√ Community benefit investments: $15 million in in strategic community program and capital investments, including in affordable housing projects, food pantries, community center capital needs, community park and playground needs, improvements at the Rural Outreach Center and Roycroft Campus, and more.