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County exec, lawmakers spar over helping arts groups


Some small arts groups in Monroe County could be in line for two tranches of emergency funding, after political divisions between the county executive and county legislators over financing for the groups boiled over Tuesday.

A day earlier, County Executive Adam Bello announced that he had vetoed a bill supported by the majority of legislators that would have sent $136,000 in aid to 18 small arts organizations, and that the county had instead established a $2 million “JumpstARTS” grant program for the groups.

Bello said the bill was unconstitutional, but his move was widely viewed by legislators as a cynical attempt to upstage their efforts to infuse some small arts groups with cash.

On Tuesday, legislators overrode the veto, setting the stage for some arts groups to receive a double-dose of taxpayer largesse.

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“This is yet another politically-motivated and egotistical veto of bi-partisan legislation that passed overwhelmingly,” Majority Leader Steve Brew said in a statement. “Adam Bello is so desperate for the limelight that he is depriving arts organizations on the brink of collapse from receiving emergency funding.”

The legislation originally passed the Legislature by a vote of 27-2 and called for drawing money from a controversial $2.5 million contingency fund to provide the funding to the 18 arts groups. The groups stood to receive between $2,500 and $20,000 apiece — amounts that were decided by legislators.

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Legislator Vince Felder, the Democrat who had introduced the measure, accused Bello of playing “gutter politics” by delaying his veto for two weeks in a bid to usurp the bill with an initiative of his own.

“If he had any issues with the legislation after it was sent to him, he could have communicated those issues to the Legislature,” Felder said. “Instead, he held the legislation while he sought to find a way to replace what the Legislature had done with his own program. This kind of gutter politics is what we see in Washington, and has no place here in Monroe County.”

Bello shot back with a statement on Wednesday, reiterating his stance that the bill was unconstitutional and could subject the county and the arts groups to “serious legal and financial consequences.”

“The County Legislature is not known for its deliberative and thoughtful approach to public policy, but last night they went too far,” his statement read.

“I will not be a willing participant in jeopardizing local art institutions and the county finances by gifting public dollars in violation of state law,” the statement went on. “I vetoed this legislation because it was in the best interest of county taxpayers and those who were to receive the funds.”

Under Bello’s initiative, any arts group with an annual operating budget of under $2 million could apply for grants of between $5,000 and $20,000.

It was not clear whether an arts organization allocated funding in the Legislature’s bill could apply for a county grant under Bello’s initiative. A call to a county spokesperson seeking clarification was not immediately returned.

Rebecca Rafferty is CITY's life editor. She can be reached at