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Giambra Offers Compromise Plan for Sharing Penny Increase in Sales Tax

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – Erie County Executive Joel Giambra has offered the Legislature a compromise plan on his proposal for a penny increase in the sales tax.

His plan for sharing a fraction of the revenues with municipalities is called STAR -- "Saving Taxes Across the Region." But Giambra proposes sharing services, not cash. The plan calls for the county to set aside an amount equal to six percent of any extra sales revenues in 2005 for inter-municipal service agreements. Municipalities would have to apply for county approval to receive the services -- and only regional collaboration projects would qualify.

Giambra is trying to rally the ten votes needed to enact the new tax. There is no indication yet whether or not the plan will satisfy legislators who wanted any new sales tax revenues shared.

On Tuesday, a County Legislature budget hearing rang familiar with a lot of anger and frustration expressed over the draconian cuts Giambra proposed in his "red" budget. But what was unusual about the attacks at this hearing is that they were bi-partisan. Board of Elections Commissioner Ralph Mohr joined his counterpart, Commissioner Larry Adamczyk, in condemning the budget. Mohr, an appointed Republican and former legislator, says Giambra has set a cantankerous tone for the process -- and has failed to deal with the crisis honestly.

"The County Executive underestimated the ability of the public to understand the current crisis," said Mohr. "I think the finger pointing and the name calling and the direction it has taken against state legislators is inappropriate."

Both commissioners say Giambra's plan isn't workable. If approved, the board would be left with only 40 workers to perform all election mandates, including counting and certifying election results. Mohr says Giambra has broken his word and deceived the community.

Deputy County Executive Carl Calabrese later defended Giambra. But Calabrese acknowledged that support is lacking from members of both parties -- most notably right now among legislators.

"The support is not there today -- and I want to stress the word today. We've all been in this business a long time. This is a very fluid situation. It may change within an hour, it may not change until an hour before the deadline," said Calabrese. "All I can tell you is that there are constant discussions, negotiations -- changes of position -- pro and con, con and pro. That will occur right up until ten votes are assembled."

Calabrese described the current stalemate over the budget as a "count-down to shutdown."