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First Public Hearing on County's "Red" Budget

By Eileen Buckley

Buffalo, NY – It's time for the public to weigh in on the County Executive's proposed 2005 budget. The first of four public hearings takes place Monday night.

County legislators begin collecting public input as they try to figure out solutions to the fiscal mess. The so-called "red" budget includes drastic cuts that would shut down libraries, close human service programs, cut snow plowing and road patrols. It also would slash 3,000 jobs.

Republican Legislator Steve McCarville says there needs to be changes in the "red" budget. But McCarville says hiking the property tax is not the answer. He says the public's input is needed as the county faces a budget crisis.

"We are in such dire straits with the budget. That is why we think it is important to get out in the public and give anyone an opportunity to be heard directly. That is our job," McCarville said. "We have to be out there with our constituents every day, but this offers a forum for everyone to speak."

Over the weekend, Republican lawmakers announced that they will not support a property tax hike to restore funding cuts. Deputy County Executive Carl Calabrese says the Giambra administration agrees, but would be in support of increasing the county's sales tax. He says this budget is a reality check that is the result of soaring Medicaid costs mandated by the state.

"This budget was a blunt instrument. It was done by the budget director who said with all discretionary money now going to New York State, he had to craft a budget. He looked at the state mandates that must be funded, and looked at the county mandates that must also be funded. There is no discretionary funds," Calabrese said. "There was no talking to the department heads asking what do you choose or what do you cut. It is a matter of law."

Monday night's public hearing will be held at the Lancaster Middle School starting at 6:00. A second public hearing will take place at ECC's City Campus Tuesday. Then next Monday and Tuesday, two more public hearings will be held on the proposed budget. One takes place in Orchard Park, the other in Clarence.