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Legislature's Black and Asian caucus makes county budget recommendations

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As legislators prepare to dig in to County Executive Adam Bello’s first budget proposal, the Black and Asian Democratic Caucus has laid out its priorities for the spending plan.

During a news conference Monday, caucus leader Ernest Flagler-Mitchell said it’s the members’ hope that the recommendations they offered would help turn around some of the issues that they see in their communities. The people in their city districts are suffering from poverty, problems with housing, and a lack of job opportunities, he added.

Flagler-Mitchell also noted that the caucus members are fully aware of the financial difficulties that the county is facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the same pandemic is only going to intensify the problems facing inner city people of color, who have been neglected for decades.

“Doing nothing and keeping things the way they are means saying that we are OK with letting things get worse,” Flagler-Mitchell said.

Legislator Ernest Flagler-Mitchell, leader of the county Legislature's Black and Asian Democratic Caucus, flanked by Legislator Calvin Lee, left, and Legislator Vince Felder, right. - PHOTO BY JEREMY MOULE
  • PHOTO BY JEREMY MOULE
  • Legislator Ernest Flagler-Mitchell, leader of the county Legislature's Black and Asian Democratic Caucus, flanked by Legislator Calvin Lee, left, and Legislator Vince Felder, right.
When asked whether the budget proposal submitted by Bello addresses any of their recommendations, Flagler-Mitchell said “that remains to be seen.” The Legislature was set to begin hearings on Bello's budget proposal later Monday.

Legislator Vince Felder added that it would have been helpful if Bello had consulted with the caucus in developing his budget proposal.

“There seems to be a need, possibly, potentially, to reorder some priorities in the budget,” Felder said.

The Black and Asian Democratic Caucus’s recommendations include:
  • Asking the county’s Diversity Action Plan Committee to look at policies that have adverse effects on communities of color in county workplaces and to make recommendations that the Legislature can act on.
  • Allocating funding for skilled trades training for high schoolers and adults in partnership with organizations such as the Rochester Educational Opportunity Center, BOCES, the Rochester City School District, and charter schools.
  • Using industrial development incentives and programs to encourage companies to locate and provide jobs in struggling areas of Rochester.
  • Ensuring parity in funding for the Public Defender’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office.
  • Increasing funding for homeless shelters and developing a better housing emergency response plan to prevent homelessness.
  • Working to increase home ownership among people of colors so that they can build their assets and combat rent burden.
  • Funding and increasing the number of day care providers with wrap-around services.
  • Revisiting the county’s public assistance sanction policies.
  • Providing free access to the Seneca Park Zoo for children living in distressed neighborhoods.

The caucus recommended moving the county’s Forensic Intervention Team, which pairs mental health clinicians with police officers responding to calls in which a person is likely experiencing a crisis, to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.

The caucus also recommended funding the FIT for 24/7 service. County Executive Adam Bello in September pledged to invest an additional $360,000 to expand the FIT into a 24/7 operation. However, his administration also expected to receive $300,000 from the city to aid in that expansion. During a Legislature committee hearing Tuesday night, administration officials confirmed that the expansion has not happened and that the county hadn't received the funding it anticipated from the city.

The breakaway Black and Asian Democratic Caucus formed in late August amidst disputes over Democratic leadership in the Legislature and the selection of a permanent Democratic elections commissioner.

In announcing the caucus’s formation, Flagler-Mitchell stated that the group was unhappy with other Democratic legislators and with County Executive Adam Bello, and said that the urban communities and communities of color the four legislators represent “are not their priority and this has been made clear to us, time and time again.”

The caucus members are Flagler-Mitchell, who is the caucus’s leader, and legislators Sabrina LaMar, Calvin Lee, and Frank Keophetlasy. Felder claims the title of Democratic minority leader and sits with the mainline Democratic caucus in the chamber, though he works directly with the Black and Asian caucus. In August, nine out of 14 Democratic legislators voted to install Legislator Yversha Roman as minority leader.

This article has been corrected to reflect the current status of the county's Forensic Intervention Team.

Jeremy Moule is CITY’s news editor. He can be reached at jmoule@rochester-citynews.com.

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