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Fight Over Extra One Percent Being Fought on Many Fronts

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – Erie County Executive Joel Giambra is fighting his war over an extra one percent sales tax on many fronts.

Last week, Giambra reported new hope from Albany for the extra sales tax revenue. But if or when county lawmakers will go along with the plan is still uncertain. So, Giambra says the budget he submits this week will likely assume the worst -- virtually erasing funding for everything from libraries to culturals and vital services to municipalities.

"It would be inappropriate to put $130 million worth of revenue without some indication that there's support to pass the necessary legislation to facilitate that revenue coming in," said Giambra. "That could put us in a very vulnerable situation with Wall Street and the rating agencies."

But local not for profits and municipalities say the tug of war makes them vulnerable, leaving their budgets in limbo. Not only do organizations stand to lose money, but one proposal from Giambra could require municipalities to insert a new budget line -- paying the county. He says, absent the sales tax increase, municipalities will have to pay for sheriff's patrols.

The Village of Alden is one of a handful of municipalities that used to pay for dedicated service. But in 2001 the village dropped the quarter million dollar contract because it couldn't afford the extra service. Village Administrator Beth Downing says paying now for basic service isn't feasible -- or fair.

"We got rid of it for purely economics before, we really can't afford that. And our village residents are county taxpayers, so they would be paying for it twice," said Downing.

Adding to the strife between the County Executive and municipalities is the question over sharing a portion of any additional sales tax revenue. State lawmakers favor such a plan. But Giambra says that's not good regionalism.

"I think it's also very much inappropriate to just give money to general purpose governments if it's only going to perpetuate the existence of decentralized government," said Giambra. "To me, that just doesn't make any sense."

Giambra's reluctance to share the extra revenue could jeapordize approval of the sales tax increase. Local culturals and municipalities are pushing hard for a compromise.