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Erie County will spend extra money to keep children and teenagers off the streets this summer, in the wake of several incidents of youth violence in the county in the past few months.

"The bottom line is this: A kid has the chance to be in here, or outside hanging out on a street corner or in a back alley. We want them in here," Legislature Chairman Charles M. Swanick said Wednesday at Butler Mitchell Boys & Girls Club on the city's West Side.

Swanick and other top Democratic legislators announced an extra $160,000 in funding for Operation Prime Time this summer. The program provides recreation, education and counseling opportunities to 6- to 18-year-olds at youth and community centers around the county.

"This is not just basketball in a smelly gymnasium," said Legislator Judith P. Fisher, D-Buffalo. "This is an enriched, highly structured summer program."

The announcement was in response to recent problems of youth violence in the county, including the brutal slaying of 18-year-old James J. Mack on Jan. 21, county officials said.

"It is so important for children to learn to value themselves, their peers, and their communities," said Majority Leader Crystal D. Peoples, D-Buffalo. "Following several recent tragic incidents involving youth violence, the need for Operation Prime Time is even more evident."

Operation Prime Time, which started in 1996 at the Sheridan-Parkside Community Center in the Town of Tonawanda, now serves more than 4,000 young people at 36 sites throughout the county.

"This is wonderful. We're thrilled," said Diane L. Rowe, chief officer of Erie County's Boys & Girls Club organization. Rowe said the extra money will enable the clubs to enhance and expand their programs throughout the summer months.

"Kids are excited, parents are talking to us," said Rowe. "They know their kids will be safe this summer."

Swanick, D-Kenmore, said the $160,000, from the Legislature's contingency spending account, will supplement the $95,000 that the county had already budgeted for Prime Time programs in 2001.

Operation Prime Time is also funded by the City of Buffalo, the state and United Way of Buffalo and Erie County and receives help from other private and agency sponsors.

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