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Homeland security funding up 46.6% here

The Buffalo Niagara region will see a 46.6 percent increase in federal homeland security funding this year, but its allocation will still fall far short of the $10 million it got in years past.

The region is set to receive $5.47 million in Urban Area Security Initiative funding, which local governments largely use for equipment for law enforcement and emergency response agencies. That's up from $3.73 million in 2006, when the Department of Homeland Security bumped the region from being ranked as the 25th most vulnerable to 46th.

While the funding allocation is not expected to be officially announced until next week, The Buffalo News obtained the figures late Thursday. Local lawmakers said they were happy that there was an increase in funding, even if it wasn't as much as they would have liked.

"It wasn't that long ago that it looked like our funding would be eliminated, so I'm pleased to see that we got more money this year than last year," said Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, R-Clarence.

Indeed, the Department of Homeland Security last year planned to end the Buffalo area's funding under the program. But a full-court press by the local congressional delegation got the local funding restored and eventually increased.

Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, said she pressured Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to boost the funding in light of his continuing insistence on stronger identification requirements at the Canadian border.

Nevertheless, the increase fell vastly short of what the region was seeking. Kevin J. Comerford, Erie County's emergency services director, said Erie County, Niagara County and the City of Buffalo worked together on a $17 million aid request. Application requests were capped. If the region had been allowed to apply for all the homeland security money it needs, it would have sought $60 million, he added.

As it stands, the $5.47 million in new money will be used for some improved communications equipment and to bolster the ability of local health departments to respond in case of chemical, biological or nuclear emergencies.

Officials from the two counties and the City of Buffalo will meet within 30 days of the award to decide how to split the money, Comerford added.

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, said he was pleased to see the funding increased. "I think the delegation came together and worked to make sure this happened," Higgins said.

But New York's two senators weren't entirely thrilled with the allocation. "This is one of the busiest land ports of entry in the country and the security needs of the region far exceed the funding that DHS is providing," said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., agreed. "As a border region with millions of travelers passing through every year, it's essential that we continue to fight for additional funding so Buffalo's first responders are equipped with the proper tools and resources to keep us safe," he said.

e-mail: jzremski@buffnews.com

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