The Erie County Legislature on Thursday unanimously approved a request by County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz to spend $27.1 million in road reconstruction and bridge repair projects for the upcoming 2014 season.
The move by lawmakers came not a moment too soon as motorists continue to navigate an unexpected rise in the number of potholes and craters on local roads resulting from a particularly harsh winter season.
“There has been a lot of damage to the roads, more than usual, and in order to get those roads repaired, we have to fast-track some projects,” said Public Works Commissioner John Loffredo, addressing legislators during a morning meeting that preceded a special legislative session to consider Poloncarz’s request.
“Our staff is ready to go off and running to get the contracts out as soon as possible, with the goal being that we can complete construction of these roads by the end of the construction season,” Loffredo said. “We don’t want to go into the next year with these roads half done.”
The administration had sought immediate approval of its request during the Legislature’s April 10 session. However, before signing off on the request, Republican-aligned members of the Legislature’s majority caucus requested additional information on the specific road and bridge projects the administration planned to tackle.
“Two weeks ago, we didn’t have this list and that was why we called the special session, so the administration and Department of Public Works could get together their list of projects so that we knew exactly what it was that we were approving,” said Majority Leader Joseph C. Lorigo.
“Last year ... the county executive unilaterally pulled $10 million worth of projects without discussing it with the Legislature. We didn’t want to give him carte blanche with $27 million not knowing where that money would be spent,” Lorigo added.
The administration’s 2014 list of road rehabilitation projects originally was budgeted for $22.5 million. After taking into account the effect the severe winter season had on local roads, Poloncarz budgeted an additional $4.6 million in spending that included $2 million in surplus funds from the transfer tax revenue plus money from other sources.
Given the extent of the damage caused to road surfaces, some Republican lawmakers questioned whether more funds could be directed to road repairs.
“We had a terrible winter. We could use as much money as we possibly can get,” Lorigo said.
“We have $83 million sitting in undesignated fund balance. We are actually planning on introducing a resolution calling for at least $5 million of fund balance to be used toward more road and infrastructure repairs,” he added.
Lorigo said the Legislature can, with a supermajority vote – that’s eight out of the 11 legislators – dedicate $5 million from the fund balance and put it towards infrastructure repairs.
“We plan on introducing a resolution calling for that to happen, but the county executive still has to be willing to spend that money,” he said.