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Word awaited from state on funds for security

Niagara County officials say they are pleased with an increased allocation in federal homeland security aid but are waiting to see how the county does with state aid before deciding how to spend the money.

The county hosted a regional Public Safety Leadership Summit of about 40 elected officials and police agency leaders Friday in the Public Safety Training Center.

County Manager Gregory D. Lewis noted that the county will share a $5.47 million federal Urban Area Security Initiative grant with Erie County and the City of Buffalo.

Niagara County has received about 24 percent of previous grants, and Lewis said regional talks will be held shortly on dividing this year's funds.

But Lewis and Sheriff's Capt. Thomas Beatty said the county needs to wait a few weeks to see how much it can add from the State Homeland Security Program and the Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program, two Albany-controlled efforts also funded with federal money.

Last year, Beatty said, the county received $416,000 from the Homeland Security Program and $392,200 from the Terrorism Prevention Program, which he called "inadequate for what we think needs to be done."

Sheriff Thomas A. Beilein said the county's top priority is interoperable communications equipment.

The county's new dispatching center in the Public Safety Training Center has the capability to connect voice communications of all police and fire agencies in the county.

The next step, Beilein said, is direct, rather than patched-through, radio broadcasts to reach all portable and vehicle units in the county.

"That's a work in progress," Beilein said.

But County Legislature Chairman Clyde L. Burmaster, R-Ransomville, praised "extensive improvements" already made. He said the regional approach gives Niagara County the opportunity to keep emergency communications flowing even if the Lockport dispatch center is down.

"If this site should be compromised in some way, our people can go to Buffalo and Erie County and communicate just as easily as if they were sitting here," Burmaster said. "It gives the enemy two targets to hit instead of one."

Legislator Peter E. Smolinski, R-North Tonawanda, chairman of the Community Safety and Security Committee, said federal funding increased here even though the Bush administration reduced the overall national funding by 15 percent. The Buffalo Niagara region had shared $3.7 million in Urban Area Security Initiative money last year.

Smolinski said the counties will place new emphasis on a training program to prepare more residents to help first responders.

Border Community Service, based at Niagara University, has been conducting the programs in Niagara and Erie counties.

Niagara County has agreed to fund that program for the next year, since federal grants have run out.

"There just aren't enough emergency responders to to take care of a catastrophe," Smolinski said.

Lewis said the county's strategic emergency plan is being updated in line with new federal guidelines.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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