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As panel meets, city groups press for funds from seized drug assets

Community groups that fight crime and run youth programs still are waiting for the city to make good on a long-stalled plan to give some agencies money that was seized in drug probes.

A key step was taken Tuesday when a special advisory panel met for the first time to begin laying the groundwork for the payout.

City officials estimate that $144,000 in seized drug assets is available to help fund programs that combat crime, prevent drug and alcohol abuse, and operate services for young people.

But even as Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda presided over the first meeting of the Shared Asset Forfeiture Fund Advisory Committee, some questioned the pace of the process.

Five years have passed since the city created a mechanism for dedicating 15 percent of all drug-asset forfeiture funds to community groups. To date, no such allocations have been made.

Michael Tritto Jr. of the Buffalo Community Center Collaborative voiced disappointment that the panel confined its first meeting to reviewing procedures.

"There was no tangible action taken -- no officers elected, no dates selected for a next meeting," said Tritto, whose coalition represents 11 of the city's largest community centers. "This has dragged on for five years with no meeting. And the first meeting occurred to basically say, 'We'll be talking.' "

Tritto and other community advocates have argued that important programs desperately need funding.

He encouraged the six-member panel to embrace a "sense of urgency."

"We are waiting with bated breath for this advisory board to do its job," he said.

But Derenda said federal regulations apply to distributing the funds.

The rules, for example, prohibit using seized drug assets to pay salaries in community programs.

Some of the issues will be handled by city attorneys and are out of the control of the Police Department, the commissioner said.

"We have a lot of things to do before we can start taking [funding] requests," Derenda said.

South Council Member Michael P. Kearns, chairman of the Common's Council Finance Committee, said he is pleased the group has finally held its first meeting.

He had pressed city officials last year to revive the defunct advisory panel.

"There are a lot of groups out there that are looking for a clear direction of how this money can be used," Kearns said.

email: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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