Erie County lawmakers Thursday sparred over a request to allocate $5 million in surplus funds for additional road repair projects beyond the $27.1 million already committed by County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz.
In the end, the Republican-aligned majority that had initiated the request was forced to accede to the wishes of minority Democrats, moving the matter to the Legislature’s Public Safety Committee. Without the Democrats’ cooperation, the Republicans lacked enough votes to override a potential veto by Poloncarz, who already had upped his initial 2014 road reconstruction budget for the county by $4 million.
“I am extremely disappointed that my Democratic colleagues in the Legislature would not support the resolution … to allocate $5 million immediately,” Majority Leader Joseph C. Lorigo, C-West Seneca, said after Thursday’s regular legislative session.
The majority caucus argued that the additional $5 million investment is crucial because of the extraordinary punishment that county roads have taken because of prolonged periods of subfreezing temperatures in this past winter season.
“We have a public safety crisis on our hands when it comes to our roads,” said Legislator Edward A. Rath III, R-Amherst.
Even though Poloncarz last month announced an increase in the number road reconstruction projects, members of the majority caucus said that it still falls short of what is needed to cover the extent of the damage across the county’s patchwork of 1,200 centerline miles of roadway.
“This resolution, with a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, merely reappropriates $5 million from our $89 million fund balance, and moves it into a fund to be spent on furthering construction repairs and other road work,” Lorigo said.
Democrats argued that the resolution put forth by the majority does not identify any specific projects that would be covered under the $5 million. They also noted that the Republicans declined to sign off on Poloncarz’s initial spending request until the administration identified the specific road reconstruction projects that it covered.
“My concern is that we’re talking about taking $5 million from the county’s fund balance, and we’re talking about moving it for projects that are not yet identified in this resolution,” said Legislator Peter J. Savage III, D-Buffalo.
“And we have no indication the department can actually get the work done,” Savage added.
All of the county-owned roads are located in suburban communities, where lawmakers said residents have been clamoring for relief.
Legislator Thomas A. Loughran of Amherst was the only Democrat to break ranks with the minority, but with the four remaining Democrats refusing to provide the GOP-aligned members with a vetoproof majority, the Legislature unanimously agreed to send the item to the Public Safety Committee for further discussion.