In wake of $100 million approval, county control board stiffs legislature

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Tuesday’s meeting in Erie County’s Legislature chamber was short by design. That’s because the other half of the meeting intended to discuss the approval of a plan to borrow $100 million for a new emergency department wasn’t in attendance.

And they never intended to be.

Legislature Majority Leader Joseph Lorigo, C-West Seneca, called the meeting to order shortly after 11 a.m. Members of the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority were ordered to come before the legislature to explain why they approved a plan last week to borrow $100 million dollars for ECMC to fund the hospital’s new emergency department and other projects.

“We issued the subpoenas first because, despite repeated attempts to get the control board members to come speak to us publicly on the matter,” Lorigo said. “They have steadfastly refused and fought us every step of the way.”

Legislature Chairman John Mills, R-Orchard Park, issued the subpoena last week, just a few days after the control board approved the borrowing plan.

The bi-partisan state-based control board is intended to prevent the county from falling into fiscal crisis.

ECMC wants Erie County to borrow the money for the new emergency department and other projects because the county has a better credit rating, and can borrow money more cheaply.

But this latest act is troubling, Lorigo said.

“They’re complete and total rejection of speaking publicly on this matter also calls their independence into question,” he said.

Although he approved the county measure to hear from the stability authority, Democratic Legislator Patrick Burke questioned instead Lorgo’s actions,saying they were more of a stunt than a statement.

“Today was really more political theater than anything,” Burke said. “So now we have the warriors of open government in this one situation when it fits their political needs.”

The control board responded in kind to the subpoena, taking the matter to State Supreme Court and asking a judge to force the legislature to answer their own question: Why did Mills issue the initial subpoena.

Previous plans have called for overages to come back to the county to help fill budget gaps.

For months, the plans have created a political firestorm within county government.

And early in the process, some legislators even questioned whether the hospital was moving ahead with the project illegally, by circumventing the public biding process. They were surprised to see companies like LPCiminelli and Cannon Design show up on bond documents that were submitted to the county.

Questions swirled within the legislature during a finance committee hearing on Oct. 28, when the project was presented by the hospital’s top brass, President and CEO Thomas Quatroche, Jr.

“If there’s collusion, if there’s bid rigging or something going on behind the scenes, we need to know about it,” he said. “Hopefully, it’s not.”

Quatroche told the committee the bond documents that included any company names were submitted by mistake, and were, in fact, for a previous project.

ECMC provided News 4 with a list of the companies that submitted bids for construction manager. They include Gilbane Building Company, LP Ciminelli, The Pike Company, The Whiting-Turner Contracting Company and LeChase Construction. They chose Cannon as the project’s design firm following a public bid process, hospital officials said.

The measure is expected to be approved Thursday by the full legislature as a declaration of need. While the initial request to the legislature by ECMC required a super majority to pass, the declaration of need only requires a simple majority.

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