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New City Budget Depends on Parks Transfer to County

By Mark Scott

Buffalo, NY – A key element of Mayor Masiello's proposed budget for the coming year is the transfer of the city's parks department to Erie County. Such a move would save the city $3.5 million dollars in the 2004-2005 fiscal year. But much needs to fall into place in the next two months for that to happen.

Word of the parks merger first surfaced during a meeting of the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority nearly two months ago. Since then, talks between city and county officials have been ongoing. But such a merger would need the approval of the Common Council, County Legislature and State Legislature - all before July 1st.

While there are some on the Council who don't want to see the city give up its famous Olmsted parks, Masiello says it's the only alternative.

"Why would it not happen," Masiello said. "We're going to guarantee everyone's job with the county. We'll set up an enterprise fund, using city money, to keep our employees working. It gives us the ability to attract the Olmsted Conservancy, bringing more money and resources. To me, it's a win-win for everybody."

City Public Works Commissioner Joe Giambra says he's met with parks staff and union leaders to explain the proposed transfer. He said it's his goal to make it as seamless as possible. Like the Mayor, Giambra is moving forward under the assumption the transfer will happen.

"I'm not making contingency plans right now," Giambra said. "But if it's not going to happen, I'm going to have to get into that and find out what the bare minimum that needs to be done to city parks.

"But that's unfathomable. We're not really thinking about that. This is going to work."

Masiello said the alternative to a parks merger would be worse. He said the city would be forced to identify other ways of making up the savings that would come with such a merger, resulting in even more layoffs and service reductions.