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Prospects Good for Passage of City-County Parks Agreement

By Eileen Buckley

Buffalo, NY – After weeks of uncertainty, city and county leaders are now confident that a parks transfer plan will be approved Friday.

Eight votes will be needed in the Erie County Legislature to pass the parks plan. There appear to be enough "yes" votes to put the parks transfer in motion.

County Executive Joel Giambra says he believes it will pass based a plan hammered out with lawmakers.

"Failure is not an option," Giambra said. "I believe we will have the necessary votes in the Legislature to approve a parks merger with the county. I think it will be a very historic opportunity for the community."

One of the sticking points was the transfer of 72 city workers into the county parks department. Some county lawmakers were not pleased with a plan to transfer all of them. Twelve would not be needed under the consolidation. But the city broke the gridlock on the issue by retaining those 12 parks workers and rolling them into other vacant positions.

Under the parks merger, the city would pay the county $1.8 million annually and turn over about $700,000 in parks fees. The consolidation plan includes an agreement with the Olmsted Conservancy for operations of Buffalo parks.

County Parks Commissioner Larry Jasinski says adding the Buffalo parks system will intensify operations, but he says the department is ready for the challenge. He says the biggest difficulty will be trying to cover almost 475 acres of city parks land.

"The difficulty lies in the fact that they are not confined to a small area," Jasinski said. "So we are planning to break the parks operations down into two zones in the city - a north zone and south zone that would comprise about 225 acres in each zone."

The county parks department already maintains about 12,000 acres of land. It operates six ounty parks, three golf courses, Wendt and Bennett beaches and the Botanical Gardens.

Jasinksi says he's not sure if the added work-load would increase his overtime budget and place strains on county spending. But he says he's hoping that's not the case. Jasinski says he won't know until the city-county parks merger is actually in full swing.