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Funding of citizen emergency training backed

Niagara County is so strongly in favor of citizen emergency training that it intends to pick up the cost of a local program after its federal funding expires June 30.

The County Legislature's Community Safety and Security Committee last week approved County Manager Gregory D. Lewis' request to allocate $200,000 from the county's own federal homeland security aid to pay for a one-year continuation of Border Community Service.

That's a training program for volunteers who are taught to help first responders at scenes ranging from accidents to terrorist attacks.

The program was set up at Niagara University, which received a federal grant to pay for it, but that funding is about to run out.

"We shouldn't allow this program to go away with this grant, but we should take a leadership position and fund it with homeland security dollars 100 percent," Lewis said.

The move won't affect property taxes. "We have more than adequate [homeland security] dollars that we have yet to spend from 2005 and 2006," the manager said.

The county budgeted $2.67 million in federal homeland security aid this year alone. The $200,000 is being taken from a line in that budget labeled "miscellaneous equipment."

Sheriff Thomas A. Beilein praised the training programs, some of which have been taught by instructors from his department.

"The feedback on these programs is absolutely positive," Beilein said.

Border Community Service has trained more than 500 volunteers in communities in Niagara and Erie counties. The training sessions are normally held in the evenings and last about two months, culminating in a Saturday morning disaster drill.

Niagara University has hosted Border Community Service for three years. "They've made a commitment to do this as part of Niagara University's mission," Lewis said.

The program received $373,000 from the Corporation for National and Community Service. That funding was to expire at the end of 2006, but it wasn't all spent, so the training courses were allowed to continue until the money was exhausted.

Lewis said the three priorities set by the Department of Homeland Security for the use of its grants to localities are, in order, interoperability of communications equipment, defense of critical infrastructure and citizen preparation. Thus, he said, funding these training programs is an appropriate use of the money.

The county manager said he will urge Buffalo and Erie County to chip in to keep the program going after Niagara County's $200,000 is used up.

The full Legislature is expected to be asked to vote on the contract June 19.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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