Fifty-two speakers were heard Monday nght, as the Erie County Legislature went through one of the rituals of the budget process: a three-hour-long public hearing on the County Executive's proposed spending plan.
As usual, most of the hearing was dominated by the county's panoply of cultural organizations, from the giant Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra to the smaller and more remote Springville Center for the Arts. Some organizations asked for more money, while others just asked legislators to leave their allocations alone when they put the final budget together over the next few weeks.
Buffalo History Museum Executive Director Melissa Brown said the county is a key figure in a $3 million exterior building renovation.
"The county's investment fuels our growth and in the first 10 months of 2018, we've seen a general attendance increase of 15 percent," Brown said. "Program attendance has increased by 20 percent and our offerings have increased by 10 percent, with a lot of new collaborations, including our First Fridays on Forest with the Richardson Olmsted Complex and Hands-On Workshops with the Castellani Art Museum."
One organization made its first request for county cash. Hearts and Hands Executive Director Kathleen Oczek asked for restoration of the $50,000 the volunteer organization serving frail and vulnerable individuals in underserved areas received last year.
"Just this morning, I received a telephone call from a couple looking to inquire about services," said Oczek. "The husband? 100 years old. His wife? In her late 80s. His wife is the driver. She's been told she needs an operation. Now they're going to really need transportation and other services."
Oczek said it might be a year before Hearts and Hands can put the couple into the network. There are 700 receiving the agency's services from 340 volunteers, mostly suburban and rural.
Some agencies were there as they have been for many years. Tammy Gaines runs the African American Cultural Center's Jumpin' Jambalaya Summer Program.
"Since 1958, the African American Cultural Center has been the gatekeeper of urban generations and has continued to be a staple in the community," Gaines said, "and is very dear to many, young and old, our educational director for after school, our world-renowned African dance and drum department, Paul Robeson Theatre, Positive Productive Sisters and the Pine Grill Jazz Reunion, has enriched generations."