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Erie County Comptroller Sues County Executive

By Eileen Buckley and Mark Wozniak

Buffalo, NY – Erie County's top fiscal watchdog is suing the County Executive over the 2005 budget. Comptroller Nancy Naples, along with republican lawmaker Denise Marshall, and both election commissioners claims portions of the budget are illegal.

The budget was adopted in a rush last week. The 360-page lawsuit claims the 2005 budget process violates the County charter.

Naples said parts of the budget are illegal, including amendments, and new fees.

She said the newly adopted budget charges municipalities more than one million dollars for election costs.

Naples said, in turn, that means an increase in property taxes. But she added the lawsuit does not mean they support a "red" budget.

"We do not want the red budget proposed by County Executive Giambra to be restored," said Naples. "This is an attempt to follow the rules of the charter and state of New York and provide the people of Erie County with a fair and correct process in adopting a budget."

The lawsuit also claims that more than 5 million dollars in newly approved fees are illegal.

And the Board of Elections contends the budget illegally lays off of a number of staffers.

Republican Election Commissioner Ralph Mohr said the jobs were targeted by the Giambra administration.

"This year, for the first time ever, we saw positions eliminated in the budget by a person's name and position number. That is purely improper," said Mohr.

County Attorney Fred Wolf said they are confident the lawsuit will be defeated.

"I'm not going into the strategy and I'm not going to argue our lawsuit in the media. But we are confident and we think we have some pretty strong evidence to support the action of the [County]Legislature to date."

A hearing is set for next Wednesday in State Supreme Court.

But Wolf said, unless the court acts otherwise, the budget plan will move forward. He said the tax levy is set and property tax bills will be sent out soon.

Meanwhile, the Erie County Legislature is expected to review the recently passed and controversial 2005 county budget at a meeting Thursday.

Budget officials are recommending the rescinding of some fees and surcharges, and they may also reconsider the allocation of layoffs.

Several employees with years of seniority are targeted to lose their jobs, while many patronage positions are being left in place.