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Poloncarz ready to relinquish some of his COVID emergency powers

Erie County's deputy budget director tells lawmakers it's time for a reduction in spending authority.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — In the space of a week, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz has changed his position on how much power he needs to address the weakened but lingering COVID pandemic.

Currently, Poloncarz can spend up to $250,000 without an approval by the Erie County legislature. Last week, when there was an unsuccessful Republican-led effort to end that authority, the county executive, a Democrat, said while there has been a great deal of progress fighting the coronavirus, he still needed financial flexibility to act and spend quickly.

Poloncarz told a gathering of reporters last Thursday, “On these small contracts, I can’t wait for the legislature. They meet once a week.”

But Thursday, a different tone was struck by Poloncarz deputy budget director while appearing before the Erie County Legislature’s Finance Committee.

Benjamin Swanekamp told county lawmakers the Poloncarz administration thinks it could now combat COVID effectively with spending authority limited to just $10,000.

“I think it’s fair, this desire to wrap that up. It would create some timing issues in some cases, but I think the standard $10,000 and under for a contract will let us get done smaller, quick projects that we feel need to pop-up,” Swanekamp said.

2 On Your Side confirmed with Poloncarz office that the county executive is comfortable with handing back much of his emergency spending authority.

When exactly this reduced spending power might happen is not clear. The earliest would be next Thursday at the scheduled meeting of the entire Legislature.

Poloncarz still has other pandemic powers that he still retains granted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s emergency declaration, which is still in effect.