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Monroe, Rochester Democrats denounce lead inspection funding cuts

David Andreatta
Public Services Desk

Democratic Monroe County legislators gathered with Rochester City Council members on the steps of City Hall Tuesday to denounce the elimination of funding for city lead inspections in Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks' proposed budget.

A quarter of the city's lead inspection effort has been funded by the county since 2006, when a city law mandating more rigorous inspections took effect. The funding amounts to $440,000 annually, and the county executive's budget released last week calls for cutting it after the end of the city's fiscal year on June 30.

The proposal follows a slight increase in the number of children in the county found to have elevated blood-lead levels, the first uptick in eight years. Most of the affected children live in the city.

"The county is going to be eliminating its portion (of the lead inspection funding) at the worst possible time," said Legislator Carrie Andrews, D-Rochester. "This is a step in the wrong direction."

The news conference was the first salvo in the annual county budget debate, which typically amounts to Democratic legislators, who are in the minority in the legislature, attempting to restore cuts through a series of amendments to the proposed spending plan.

In proposing to end the funding, the Brooks administration has said the money was not an efficient way to address lead hazards and noted that, despite a small uptick in lead poisoning cases last year, the number has dropped to historic lows over the last decade.

"During tough fiscal times, local governments don't have the luxury to throw taxpayer money at a problem and not evaluate the results," said county spokesman Noah Lebowitz.

Advocates and the nine members of the City Council, all of them Democrats, argue that the lead inspections the county helped fund were critical to the overall decrease in lead cases. They claim the cut would disproportionately affect poor city children.

"I clearly understand that in tough times governments must choose what to fund," said City Council President Lovely Warren. "With that, there must be a balance."

The city conducts about 280 inspections a week. Last year, 290 children in Monroe County, including 268 in areas of the city considered to be most susceptible to lead hazards, tested positive for elevated levels of lead in their system.

Messages left for the president of the legislature, Jeffrey Adair, R-Wheatland, and the majority leader, Dan Quatro, R-Webster, were not returned.