In a unanimous vote Thursday, Erie County Legislators approved a $5 million fund requested by the County Executive to tackle the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis.
The funding will be used to cover purchases of equipment and supplies, to track cases and collect data, to support personnel and address other needs directly related to the county’s coronavirus response. The fund request came as part of County Executive Mark Poloncarz’s recently-issued state of emergency.
“We are clearly in an ever changing environment that nobody has ever dealt with,” said Legislature Minority Leader Joseph Lorigo. “And, you know, I don’t know how much more we can be of help then financially. That is our function. Our function in county government is to be the fiscal house and provide you with what is needed to manage this type of situation.”
The Legislature’s full session began at 11 a.m., three hours before the traditional start. In a hearing held just before the vote, Erie County Health Commissioner Gale Burstein and representatives of her department and the Poloncarz Administration sat before lawmakers, hearing both praise for their work thus far but also comments of concern for the flow of information.
Legislature Chair April Baskin says the problem is that she and her peers have received calls from constituents seeking information. While stating they don’t want to create additional work, Baskin says they’re also concerned about inaccurate information.
“I don't think meeting or having executive sessions about this is a good use of people's time, or safe in considering the fact that we're not supposed to be congregating more than 10 at a time,” Baskin said. “But something does have to be worked out, where we get updates on who's been testing positive, especially if it's within our jurisdiction, and what's going on with the health department, so that we can help and communicate effectively to the public.”
The funds approved Thursday come from a $10 million surplus in the 2019 county budget.