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Some questions emerge with Erie County spending choices for pandemic relief funding

More than $2.3 million in COVID pandemic relief money will go toward a town history museum/multi-purpose building in Cheektowaga's Stiglmeier Park.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — 2 On Your Side is following up on Erie County's spending choices with COVID pandemic relief money, and specifically, there are questions about how that money is being spent in Cheektowaga.

Another group of smiling politicians held a check presentation, this time for $2.36 million for a town history museum/multi-purpose building in Cheektowaga's Stiglmeier Park, including new bathrooms. It comes from a combined federal and state spending pot financed by the American Rescue Plan that in turn comes from Washington as pandemic relief and community improvement. 

A proud county legislature Democratic majority leader gladly brought home the bacon, as they say. As Legislator Timothy Meyers puts it, "Quite frankly, if we didn't fight for this money, it would have gone to some other municipality."

But his counterpart, legislature Minority Caucus Leader Joseph Lorigo adds, "I'm not here to disparage the projects that got funding, but the process was terrible."

We got a look at some of that "process" from a July legislature Zoom meeting in one exchange between Lorigo and Deputy County Director Benjamin Swanekamp.

Lorigo asks, "What is going in the museum in Cheektowaga? Another $2.4 million expense?

Swanekamp responds: "I'm not sure there, but again, you would likely be approving another resolution in terms of the contract with much more detail down the line."

Lorigo: "But this is something that your administration put forward, and you don't know what the $2.4 million is for?"

Yet despite a request from the minority conservative and Republican lawmakers for more discussion and public input in County Executive Mark Poloncarz's, spending plan, it passed along party lines. 

It includes money for Cheektowaga's town museum project. That's even though a historical society member was heard suggesting they only really wanted $250,000 to improve their current building near town hall, and with the fact that the town gets $24 million separately from this federal funding pot.

2 On Your Side asked Legislator Meyers, do you think that's right for taxpayers all over the county?

Meyers: responded, "I do."

2 On Your Side then pointed out some people would say that this smells like pork barrel legislation. What would he say to anybody who would have concerns and would say about $2.3 million for a town historical museum?

Meyers responded, "The first thing I would say is, suppose I spent $500,000 here, $300,000 there, and I divided that money all up. Would it still be considered pork? Listen, there's going to be arguments coming from both sides, and I can tell you where they're coming from. But again I don't think so. I think it's a worthy project."

Lorigo pointed out, "If the town of Cheektowaga wanted a history museum for the town, they could have used their rescue plan funding for it."

Meyers contends, "We had the opportunity to do this, and we're going to do it, and I'm not going to apologize for it."