BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — Residents gathered in person and online Wednesday to voice their concerns with Broome County’s 2021 budget proposal.
The Broome County Legislature held its first online public hearing for next year’s proposed budget on Wednesday. Meanwhile, nearly 50 people gathered in protest outside the county offices.
While the group did exceed the gathering size allowed in Broome County’s state-designated yellow zone, they wore masks and maintained social distancing.
Many of the protesters who spoke during the hearing criticized the budget proposal for adding two new sheriff positions and keeping the budget for the Broome County jail at more than $29 million.
A coalition of Southern Tier organizations hosted the rally, including Justice and Unity for the Southern Tier, Citizen Action, Progressive Leaders of Tomorrow and TruthPharm. The coalition also held several actions throughout the summer in favor of defunding the police and the county jail.
Activists around the country called for defunding the police during the protests that followed the death of George Floyd. Alexis Pleus, of TruthPharm, said it is part of the reason the budget proposal came across as “tone deaf” to activists.
“We see this happening across the county, and yet our county seems to want to be stuck in the Dark Ages, ignore what people are saying and ignore the evidence that we need to change how we’re doing things and then just plow forward with this budget,” Pleus said.
The proposed budget would fund two new deputy sheriffs and cut several public health positions; many of those positions, however, were already unfunded over the last several years.
Many who called-in to the Zoom meeting took issue with the funding allotted to the jail. Susan Link of Binghamton said that with the jail operating at around half capacity for most of this year, it doesn’t make sense to keep its budget so large.
“All of the money seems to be going into correctional services, but there are not enough people to serve in the correctional services,” she said. “So I don’t really see what the point is.”
Link said county funding should instead go to “people-centered” services that help meet residents’ basic needs. Many residents suggested increasing funding for mental health care, social services, substance use disorder treatment and low-income, affordable housing.
A second public hearing on the budget will be held next month.