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Erie County Legislature’s marathon budget hearings try to make up for lost time

The Erie County Legislature ran through marathon budget hearings Monday as lawmakers sought to make up for time lost to last week’s record snowstorm.

With four legislators trapped in their homes because of the storm, three days of Legislature hearings on County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz’s 2015 budget proposal had to be postponed. Those hearings with county department heads resumed at 9 a.m. Monday and continued until 4:30 p.m. A half-hour later, it was the public’s turn to comment on the $1.43 billion spending plan, with about 40 representatives from some two dozen cultural agencies making their pitches for lawmakers to at least maintain the level of funding for cultural groups included in Poloncarz’s budget.

Anthony Bannon, director of the Burchfield Penney Art Center, urged lawmakers to “continue your generous support of our cultural institutions.” Ellen Hassett Cahill of Road Less Traveled Productions appealed to legislators to be even more generous, if possible.

“We ask the county to continue funding the culturals, including Road Less Traveled, at the level at which we requested,” said Hassett Cahill.

Paula Mercurio of the Food Bank of WNY, which is budgeted to receive $72,500 in the spending plan, asked the Legislature to approve $27,000 in additional funding for the group. Others requested that lawmakers consider funding their organizations at the higher level recommended by the Erie Arts & Cultural Advisory Board instead of the reduced rate included in Poloncarz’s proposal.

Earlier, legislators heard from various county office and department heads regarding their budgets, including District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III, who expressed a general satisfaction with the budget proposed for his office.

Sedita said his chief concern was the loss of $250,000 in state funding and about $400,000 in federal funding for domestic violence prosecution. He said he would have liked to have more funds to hire more assistant district attorneys.

The Legislature’s Finance & Management/Budget Committee did not schedule budget hearings with some offices and departments, including the Sheriff’s Office and Department of Public Works, because of the time constraints blamed on last week’s snowstorm.

Meanwhile, the Legislature plans to take up the 2015 budget proposal at 10:30 a.m. today when the Legislature’s Republican-aligned majority and the Democratic minority may each elect to present their own proposed budget amendments.