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Public hearing reviews county budget priorities

Mike Desmond/WBFO

The annual public hearing is perhaps the most high-profile event in Erie County's budget process. The session Tuesday drew another large crowd as interested parties shared their views of the spending plan prepared by Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.

A variety of speakers shared their concerns to county lawmakers on Tuesday with the hope of swaying more county money toward their particular interest.

An emotional plea called upon the county to put more money behind the fight against the opioid epidemic. Julie Welsted shared the tragedy of her family which has been ravaged by deaths by overdose.

"December of 2015, I lost my first-born son, Christopher, at the age of 31. Over 250 people attended his wake," Welsted recounted. 

"On November 27, 2016, not 50 weeks later, I lost my second son, David. Over 450 people attended his wake."

One of the perennial topics at these budget hearings is money for the arts. Bradley Bethel appeared on behalf of Locust Streets Art, an arts-centric effort that he says offers real help for people who walk in its door.
"Friends work together to create a safe learning environment. Parents lend their time to share with their children their passion for the arts," said Bethel, a student who also serves as treasurer for the organization's Board of Directors. 

"This is all provided by a team of staff members, teen assistants and a Board of Directors, all representing a variety of demographics working together to protect a rare institution in a neighborhood that's working to protect its identity."

For the most part, public employees were silent during the hearing. Though that may be a sign of an overhaul content relationship between County Hall and its workers' unions, the Probation Officers Association appeared to protest a cut in their budget.

"Maintaining fiscal prudence and vital services is a challenge in a tax cap environment. It's a difficult tightrope to walk,"  Michael Lex told the gathering. 

"We greatly appreciate your efforts to maintain balance. The dollars budgeted for Probation benefit the entire community. The safety of that community is directly proportional to staffing."


Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.