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Poloncarz accused of 'breaking law' to disrupt cultural grants

Erie County legislators say County Executive Mark Poloncarz illegally manipulated the county budget to make it difficult for nearly 70 cultural and community organizations to receive $468,000 from the Legislature.

"Mark is breaking the law, and we're going to sue," said Majority Leader Joseph Lorigo, C-West Seneca.

The Legislature chairman and county comptroller also threatened to sue Poloncarz, and they asked the county attorney how to go about hiring an outside lawyer to do that.

The dispute blew up last week after community organizations complained about being asked to resubmit county applications they previously completed to get the thousands of new dollars from the Legislature. The Legislature approved the money for organizations like the African American Cultural Center and the Lancaster Opera House.

Cultural and community groups expressed concern their funding might be delayed.

After hearing from lawmakers, the administration on Friday acknowledged making a mistake. Any cultural organizations that previously approved for funding should not have been asked to reapply for the additional money legislators earmarked for them, Poloncarz spokesman Peter Anderson said.

"It was too wide of a net to ask everyone to submit a second application," Anderson said. "It should have been more targeted to organizations that were first timers or had no experience with the funding process."

Legislature leaders said they are glad the administration recognized the mistake but expressed concern about administrative errors, lack of transparency and "disrespect for the Legislature."

"This bothers me a lot because it shows they don't have the proper people in place to get things right," said Chairman John Mills, R-Orchard Park.

In regard to plans to sue the administration, Mills said, "If we have to we will. We're exploring all options."

Legislators who heard from the cultural organizations discovered that instead of amending the existing 2017 budget lines to reflect the increased legislative funding, the county administration created new budget lines to separate the legislative earmarks money from the rest of the budget.

"It is wreaking havoc on this community," said Legislator Barbara Miller-Williams, D-Buffalo. "It's not fair. That's not what we voted for."

"Once the budget's approved, that's the budget, right?" asked Minority Leader Thomas Loughran, D-Amherst. "The money is allocated and assigned, and that's it."

Anderson said changes will be made so that no organization will be required to apply twice to receive county money. He also said no cultural or community organization will see any funding delays.

In regard to the unexpected change in the county budget book, which now less accurately reflects the total funding community organizations receive and what the Legislature approved, Anderson said it is too soon to say whether the change will be eliminated in next year's budget.


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