Staff the border properly - The Buffalo News

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Staff the border properly

Increasing the number of U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents should be a matter of dollars and cents. More agents equal more sales.

The more agents to question drivers and inspect vehicles, the faster the crossing times and the better we can attract Canadian visitors coming here to patronize our stores, concerts and sporting events.

Simple. Right?

But this is the Peace Bridge, where discussion about anything that should be simple and apparent somehow gets bogged down and complicated.

A recent story in The News that cited a check of border wait times at around 3:30 p.m. on a Sunday at the Peace Bridge makes the point: 18 minutes for commercial vehicles with six lanes open and a wait time of one hour for passenger vehicles with eight lanes open.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y. is complaining about the backups, long wait times and lane closures that are the result of a cutback in the number of agents stationed here. He’s calling on the agency to provide enough federal agents to break the “logjam.”

Schumer is right. So are other elected officials, including Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, who has in recent years made luring Canadians to shop here a priority. Creating logjams at the U.S. border is not only foolish and costly, but counterproductive. It takes money out of the regional economy.

As the senator states, every border agent provides a $2 million boost to the local economy and 33 new jobs. Erie County counts the sales tax money generated by Canadian shoppers who enjoy coming here for lower sales tax (believe it, or not), and the chance to thumb through the selection of clothes and other goods for sale.

This is especially true when the Canadian dollar is riding strong – not so much lately, but the loonie still has enough staying power to merit a quick trip over the border. Moreover, there are concerns about the cargo pre-inspection program due to inadequate staffing on the U.S. side of the border.

The Buffalo Niagara Partnership’s 2014 Regional Agenda released last week notes improvements to the cargo pre-inspection program at the Peace Bridge and seeks “adequate staffing to make the program permanent” from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The agenda also includes improvements to the bridge plaza, which have been sorely needed. As Schumer said, understaffing at the Peace Bridge may jeopardize progress on the cargo pre-inspection program.

The number of reasons that recommend beefing up the ranks of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents outweigh any hesitation. It’s dollars and cents. Common “cents,” you might even say.

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