ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) – Updated: One Bills Drive served as the backdrop for Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz’s State of the County address where he said the area is moving away from pandemic response toward a new normal.

He believes the way forward is to invest in the economy and the new post-pandemic reality. County Executive Poloncarz remarked this is his first in person State of the County address since 2019, as the county was forced to deliver virtual speeches in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19.

“We want to get back to normal, but we must acknowledge that what we knew before is not really coming back,” Poloncarz said.

Poloncarz began by commenting on the pandemic response, saying his county and administration led the way in providing resources to residents. He added moving forward there needs to be more programs available for parents and students to get back on track. As part of the path to a new normal, Poloncarz announced the Back-on-Track plan for students, which includes creating an app for parents to find mental health services for their children, helping school districts address health issues, suspending library late fees and providing all classrooms with an Austin Air Systems filtration device.

Poloncarz also rolled out new grant programs for small businesses where business owners can apply for up to $40,000 to revitalize their storefront. More information on this program will come out soon, Poloncarz said.

Education and job training programs for low income residents will continue this year, as Poloncarz says he plans to reinvigorate SUNY Erie. He said the school was built for the 1970s, but needs modernization.

He also discussed the RENEW plan, which he says will improve infrastructure, roads, and wastewater management. He also plans on allocating funds for affordable housing.

On taxes, Poloncarz says his administration was “prudent” for years before the COVID-19 pandemic. Federal and New York State funding now allows Erie County to invest in several one-time capital projects.

“This is one time only revenue. While we are looking at investments across the board in Erie County, we are primarily looking at one time only investments. It’s not like we are creating all of this brand new programming,” Poloncarz added.

He also says taxes will not go up this year.

“Our 2022 budget reduced the County Tax Rate to the lowest level since the establishment of modern county government in 1960.”

Republicans criticize this tax move, saying they should decrease instead of staying the same.

“Some good opportunities would be lowering the property tax levy and finding ways to cut spending. Also, we can look at eliminating the additional sales tax residents have been paying for 20 years,” Legislature Minority Leader Joseph Lorigo said.

Democrats say that taxes may stay the same for now, but they could decrease in the future.

“I think if things remain the same I think there will be a good chance taxes will take that plunge going down,” District 1 Legislator Howard Johnson continued.

On county debt, Poloncarz said it has decreased by $140 million or 36 percent since he took office in 2012.

Finally, Poloncarz concluded with capital investments in arts and culture, including county owned parks, entertainment venues, art institutions and the Buffalo Bills Stadium project. He says by pulling away from the football business, the county will save money in the long term, but he does acknowledge there will be a short term investment as the construction begins.

As the county’s focus shifts from pandemic to endemic, Poloncarz believes the best way forward is to invest.

Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a reporter in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) – Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz will deliver his State of the County address from the Bills’ fieldhouse at 4 p.m. You can watch a replay in the video player below.

Poloncarz is expected to hit on numerous topics in a nearly hour-long message, including the Bills stadium deal, plans for federal Covid relief dollars, plans to improve schools, and programs to help the county get back on its feet in an eventual post-pandemic world, among other items.

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