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Erie County Holding Center move generates most heat at budget hearing

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How to spend Erie County's money was up to the public Monday evening, in an annual ritual of the county budget process.

The budget hearings are usually agency heads pitching their proposed spending plans to county legislators working on the spending plan from the county executive. There is the one night when public and private groups looking for extra cash or to preserve what they have already granted show up for an often endless series of three-minute pitches. There were 64 on the agenda for Monday's Zoom session.

The most heat was generated by opponents of a plan to move residents of the Erie County Holding Center out to the county jail in Alden to save money, potentially millions of dollars. Some speakers just wanted to get rid of cells and bars, while others said it is unfair to lockup residents and their families, because the county facilities in Alden aren't readily accessible to those without a car.

"If this consolidation goes through, we are going to have a situation where, again, the bulk of prisoners within the Erie County jail system are going to be in Alden, without any public transportation access," said Miles Gresham, chair of the Corrections Specialist Advisory Board. "They often come from communities where folks don't have their own cars and where they rely on public transportation to get out there."

Albright Knox Art Truck Coordinator Vicente Rondon wanted to make sure the art gallery's county allocation was preserved.

"Arts and cultural institutions matter and now more than ever, I'm starting to see how much more of an effect I can have on my own community at this specific cultural institution," Rondon said. "The Albright Knox is progressing. It's paying attention. It's trying to be better than ever before. The fact is apparent in our new initiatives, which I get to participate in, so that arts and culture can be accessible and inclusive for all that live in Erie County. That's important and I bet you all could agree."

Cooperative Extension Executive Director Diane Held talked of her agency's COVID fiscal trouble.

"A decrease in state funding, program-generated income and fundraising income. Maintaining our capacity to support our community during this pandemic will allow CC Erie to continue to provide the valuable programs we have been offering right along," Held said. "As essential staff,  our agriculture educators support county farmers, providing technical assistance to farms throughout the county and in the City of Buffalo."

Most agencies lamented cuts brought on by the effects of COVID, whether staff cuts or cuts in time allowed for visitors, sometimes for months, as various lockdowns settled in. 

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