The race for Erie County Executive heated up Wednesday night in the WNED|WBFO studios with a debate between incumbent Democratic County Executive Mark Poloncarz and his opponent, Republican Assemblyman Ray Walter. Among the many issues debated were Child Protective Services, taxes and last November's snow removal response.
In opening statements, Poloncarz said the economy has grown in four years, with unemployment down, and investments were made without raising taxes. Walter said his 'Fair Share' tax plan modernizes a 40-year-old sharing agreement and blamed Poloncarz for not leveraging investments.
The question of last year's snow removal from the massive November storm came up early. Poloncarz explained he "kept hospitals open" during the storm and "provided information to public."
"We know how to handle snow," stated Poloncarz.
Walter responded, saying people in the south towns "felt ignored" during the storm.
The issue of Child Protective Services and the deaths of children in recent years also surfaced. Poloncarz was asked if there is enough manpower for CPS caseworkers.
"The worst days of my administration is when when a child died. Any day that a child dies is one day too many. What we have done is added case workers. We went from approximately 80 caseworkers to 113 case workers. The average caseload per worker is 22 cases. At its highest point it was 51. So we dropped it near the level that the state recommends," responded Poloncarz.
Walter said that county legislators called for resignation of the former social services commissioner, while Poloncarz defended her.
"There was no accountability. When county legislators were calling for the resignation or the demand for the resignation of the Department of Social Services commissioner, Mark stood by her. He did not hold her accountable at all and, in fact, gave her additional responsibilities by appointing her acting mental health commissioner," said Walter.
The topic of $130 million spent to renovate Ralph Wilson Stadium was also debated when the candidates were asked if they would favor the Buffalo Bills stadium staying in Orchard Park or moving downtown. It was one topic they did agree on, with Walter saying "The Ralph" can be rehabbed in the future.
"They've done a great job in Kansas City refurbishing the stadium there. They did the same thing at Lambeau with Green Bay, refurbishing the stadium there. And those stadiums are going to last a long time and have lasted a long time. We could do the same thing here in Erie County. We've got a great stadium out in Orchard Park. I'd like to keep it that way," Walter said.
"The engineers in the Erie County Department of Public Works have stated that the stadium, in its current status, if nothing else was done to it other than annual maintenance, could last another 25 years. We're going to continue to have discussions. Certainly if Mr. Pegula came down and said he wanted a new stadium, we'd have to have discussions with him. You can't take anything off the table. But, I'll say this: It's a stadium that's in good shape, that could last a long time if we invest in it," responded Poloncarz
Election Day is November 3.