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Column: Why legislators are concerned about ECMC credit scheme

The following is a guest column from Erie County Legislator John Mills:

I have heard from several residents who have asked why the new emergency room for ECMC has become such a point of contention. I want to explain to you my views on the issue and why the current approach is a bad deal.

ECMC has stated it has outgrown its emergency room and needs to renovate to best serve the community. I support ECMC, especially its Level I trauma center and its skilled staff. Initially, ECMC and the county executive formulated a plan to borrow the $100-plus million plus through Erie County. That plan was defeated thanks to legislators who recognized this wasn’t a good deal. It was the most expensive option and put the county’s finances at risk. During that vote we stated that ECMC would be best served working with the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority, and that proved to be true as the ECFSA has a better bond rating and therefore it’s cheaper to borrow through them. In order for the ECFSA to borrow, the Legislature must approve a Declaration of Need. This is where we get to the root of the contention.

Myself and four of my colleagues voted against the Declaration of Need as submitted because as part of the “deal,” ECMC must give millions of dollars to Erie County. Why, you might ask? That is my question as well. They should not, in my opinion. ECMC should borrow for its new ER, and benefit from any savings realized by borrowing through the ECFSA. Erie County should not be ripping away millions of dollars. Unfortunately, attempts to amend the Dec. of Need to make sure the hospital received all the money were defeated.  

There is still another step in the process before the ECFSA can go to market, and during that vote on the actual borrowing plan I encourage all my colleagues in the legislature to think about what they are doing. It just so happens that ECMC needs to upgrade its ER at this time, but that doesn’t make this an opportunity for the county to take millions of dollars as part of the project to plug our budget. I will only support a borrowing plan that does not include the credit scheme. The county executive and legislators who have advocated for the credit scheme are hurting ECMC, which does amazing work in the most severe situations.

The Buffalo News has written three editorials on this and every time stated that all the savings should go to ECMC. When residents understand this complex issue they agree that Erie County’s attempt to rip away millions of dollars, and use the one-time revenue source to pay for recurring expenses is a bad deal for everyone. It will cause a very large budget hole for Erie County when the credits run out.

In another matter, last week we lost seven residents from suspected heroin overdoses in 24 hours. As many news sources reported, the epidemic is not getting better. If you need assistance, please contact the Crisis Services 24/7 Addiction Hotline at 831-7007. You can also find information on the County Health Department’s website at www.erie.gov/health. In many communities, law enforcement are focusing on saving the life of addicts and not treating them like criminals. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, any hesitation could cost a life.

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