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Erie County lawmakers delay discussion on environmental funds

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By Joyce Kryszak

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wbfo/local-wbfo-906650.mp3

Buffalo, NY – Erie County lawmakers on Wednesday delayed a debate on the disputed use of $2.9 million in federal funding for green projects.

Click the audio player above to hear Joyce Kryszak's full story now or use your podcasting software to download it to your computer or iPod.

Last year the United States Department of Energy gave Erie County $2.9 million to spend over three years on green projects. Erie County Executive Chris Collins soon shifted roughly two million to public works for lighting and other energy upgrades.

The money originally was earmarked fotr and approved by the legislature for a variety of community conservation programs. Instead, Collins laid off two staff members who would have led those projects. Their positions were previously funded with other grants that expired.

The administration now wants to use the remaining funds for more efficiency purchases, rather than labor dependent programs. Bob Ciesielski is chair of the local chapter of the Sierra Club. He and others rallied against the change outside in the rain in front of county hall.

They said millions of dollars could be saved through the community projects the federal money was intended to fund.

Ciesielski and other advocates filed into county legislative chambers to urge lawmakers with the energy and environment committee to support their position. But after a lengthy debate on the new York Power Authority's proposed wind project, lawmakers postponed the discussion on the repurposing of funds.

Tim Callan is associate deputy comptroller for the county. He was suppose to report on his office's findings on the legality of the switch. The comptroller's office investigated Collins intended repurposing of the funds after receiving whistle-blower tips.

The Collins administration says they have received permission from the federal agency to repurpose the funds.

Callan said that as long as the administration has both federal and legislative approval, it can move the funds.

Lawmakers are expected to get more details from the administration and discuss the issue before voting on the matter.