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Collins defends decision to cut funding to all but 10 cultural agencies

BUFFALO -- Erie County Executive Chris Collins on Wednesday defended his decision to cut tax dollars to dozens of cultural agencies, saying he doesn't believe "it's the proper role for the county to play" to prop up all of the organizations. 

"The difference I've made is, on smaller theater companies and the like, where the majority of the visitors are county residents going to those venues, it's my belief they should stand on their own," Collins said.

Collins, speaking to reporters during a morning news conference, said he will maintain the 2010 allotment for the "regionally significant 10 culturals" that he has identified as helping to attract visitors from outside of Erie County.

The Buffalo News reported this morning that Collins intends to give those 10 agencies -- including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the Darwin Martin House and the Burchfield Penney Art Center, among others -- the same amount he allowed them this year. Funding to other cultural organizations, however, would be cut in Collins' proposed budget.

Collins fielded questions about the budget decision during a morning news conference outside of Old County Hall in which he planned to speak about the return of AutumnFest to Sprague Brook Park.

"I am committed to not increasing property taxes," Collins said. "And with that, we started with a very substantial hole in our budget of about $30 million, and we've had to make lots of cuts, but at the same, time, I don't believe in a one-size-fits all approach."

Collins said his budget will include a slight increase for the Buffalo Niagara Convention and Visitors Bureau as it starts a new marketing campaign across the country. 

Collins' proposed budget is due to the Legislature on Friday. 

"This decision has been made, and this part of the budget has been set," Collins said of the funding for cultural organizations. "There is a legislative process, as you indicated, but relative to the budget I'll be sending over on Friday, this is the number."

Collins said he believes most of the cultural agencies that will see their funding cut under his plan will survive. Others, he suggested, might merge. 

"I've said for a long time, in some cases, there should be consolidation," Collins said. "You could argue Shea's and Studio Arena should have consolidated many years ago, but the county's support back then shored up an organization that was destined to fail, and Studio Arena did fail."

Listen to a portion of Collins' remarks in this audio clip:

--Denise Jewell Gee

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