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Erie County lawmakers allocate $14M surplus to art, body cams, gardens, poverty, streets

Albright-Knox Art Gallery
The Albright-Knox Art Gallery is in the midst of a $160 million expansion, as expressed in this rendering.

The Erie County Legislature agreed to put up the $5 million promised to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery by County Executive Mark Poloncarz, but it was along fight.

The session ran long Thursday, as Democrats and the Minority Caucus had a raucous fight over every dime in the millions of dollars from last year's budget surplus the county executive planned to spend this year.

The surplus ended up being larger than expected. Free cash is around $14 million, with $31 million locked up for other purposes from last year's budget.

The Minority Caucus tried a series of amendments. Legislature Minority Leader Joseph Lorigo has been leading the charge to stop the $5 million going to the gallery, suggesting less, none or borrowing it all.

"I've gotten phone calls from two billionaires because of my supposed anti-Albright-Knox stance and when I talk to those billionaires and they tell me this $5 million needs to be there, the thing that runs through my mind is: You're a billionaire. You could write that $5 million check yourself and you wouldn't blink," Lorigo said.

West Seneca Legislator and Republican County Executive candidate Lynne Dixon said Poloncarz should have talked to people.

"Conversation that the county executive had had about the Albright-Knox at that time and agreed to $5 million from the county for it, but again we are the fiscal house. It would have been nice to have that discussion with the administration, first, that this is what I'm thinking of doing. What do you think?" Dixon said.

Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News File Photo
WBFO News File Photo
The Erie County Sheriff's Office has completed a trial of boy cameras.

Approved budget amendments provide cash for an array of other projects.

"We got body cams, money for body cams, and that's something that's super-important," said Legislature Chair April Baskin. "We got an additional $1.2 million for poverty initiatives. We have a very successful anti-poverty task force here in Erie County. They have been working on lots of projects and I know that this funding is going to help them solve a lot of issues in poverty."

The Sheriff's Department will get $600,000 to start issuing body cameras to deputies. They were not on Sheriff Tim Howard's priority list. He wanted a new helicopter and a full-time SWAT team.

Other funds will go to the Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens for major work there and more was allocated to the three cities in the county - Buffalo, Lackawanna and Tonawanda - to spend on their own streets. Because there are no county roads in the cities, no county road money goes there.

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.
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