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County Borrowing Dispute Threatens Zoo Project, Jail Roof Repair

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – Erie County officials have some tough choices to make about infrastructure improvements now that lawmakers have said they will cap borrowing.

The administration's original borrowing request broke projects down into three categories -- projects the county are legally obligated to do, road and bridge work and $7 million of general or other projects. But lawmakers restricted the other category to only $2 million. One roof repair job alone goes over that limit. Donald Livingston is superintendent of management at the Alden Correctional Facility. Livingston says you don't want a rotted roof on a jail holding 600 prisoners.

"We'll have damage that will seriously compromise our ability to operate certain housing areas," Livingston said. "Also, if our kitchen or infirmary areas could not be used, that's a major issue."

It could also effect the jail's ability to keep prisoners inside. In April, an inmate escaped from the jail, cutting his way through the roof. Livingston says he's not sure it was because of the roof. But he says it's hard not to notice the damage.

But other capital projects were also high on the county's list. The Buffalo Zoo is supposed to get $1.2 million to begin construction of its planned rainforest. The money would complete a public and private funding package of about $14 million for the long anticipated project. Without it, Zoo President Donna Fernandes says the rainforest can't be built.

"By building an attraction that would be popular during the winter months, we can still grow our attendance," Fernandes said. "They really are compromising the future of the Zoo if they don't allow us to move forward with a really successful project that will allow us to increase our revenues."

The County Executive's office did not return calls to WBFO about the status of either of these projects. Fernandes says she also has not been contacted. She's hoping that's good news.