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Top Officials Warn Public Safety Will Be Threatened Under Red Budget

By Eileen Buckley

Buffalo, NY – The third day of budget hearings brought one of the sternest warnings to the County Legislature. Erie County's top prosecutor says if a proposed "red" budget is approved, there will be "lawlessness" on the streets.

"We would be the only community in the United States that didn't have an effective prosecutors office -- the only one in the United States," said District Attorney Frank Clark.

Passion poured out as he delivered a dire warning of what's to come in January if funding is not restored. Clark issued a very powerful plea, demanding that the Legislature restore cuts to his department.

"Unless you supply us with the resources we had in 2004, I can't be responsible for the lawlessness that will occur on the streets of the city and the county," Clark said.

Clark says the County Executive's proposed budget does not protect the citizens of Erie County. He says it slashes 60 percent of his resources and would force him to lay off 80 percent of his experienced trial lawyers.

"Two out of every three guilty felons that are being convicted in this county today will be returned to the streets," Clark said. "Murderers would be returned to the streets. Rapists and child molesters would be returned to the streets. Drunk drivers who kill people will be allowed back behind the wheel and there is absolutely nothing I can do about that."

Clark even questions if the spending plan is a "legal" budget. He says under the state constitution, his office must be funded. Democratic Majority Leader Lynn Marinelli agreed with Clark. She says she finds the plan irresponsible, unacceptable and potentially illegal.

"In a time in the past several years where the state has told the county you have to build courthouses. But now the county is saying we can't do anything within those courtrooms. That's absolutely unacceptable," Marinelli said. "And it comes at a time when the public has clearly told us that public safety is one of their highest priorities."

Lawmakers asked Clark to supply them with his top funding priorities. Legislator Al DeBenedetti says he would like to attempt to restore cuts to the DA's office.

Clark also criticized the County Executive's office for failing to warn him of a doomsday budget for his department.

Sheriff Patrick Gallivan told legislators the proposed "red" budget would cut every police service his department provides throughout the county.

"The red budget, if adopted, absolutely decimates services," Gallivan said. "What we will have left is one sergeant and four deputies to police in the Village of Springville, pursuant to a contract. We will have a number of deputies paid by a Social Sservices contract to police the Rath building, and that will be it for police services."

Gallivan says he would also be forced to ground the sheriff's helicopter used in search and rescues. Ray Caster of Buffalo says that would be a "disaster." Caster's son was recently rescued from Zoar Valley.

"I think people would probably die in Zoar Valley," Caster said. "If they cut this, it is going to come up and somebody has to be held accountable."

Gallivan says the funding cuts would force him to lay off 200 employees. Sheriff's Deputy Mike Summers says as a citizen, he supports a tax hike to fund public safety.

"I want my children safe on the roads. We want to remove the drunk drivers to keep roads safe," Summers said. "I could be affected just as much as anyone else by that."

Summers says deputies would be willing to work with the county to figure out other cost cutting efforts while sparing public safety.

Sheriff Gallivan says in a recent citizens survey, about 55 percent of those who responded said they would be willing to pay more taxes if necessary to fund public safety.