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Judge Rules in County's Favor, Layoff Notices Printed

By Mark Scott

Buffalo, NY – State Supreme Court Justice John Lane Friday denied a preliminary injunction a West Seneca man was seeking against the 2005 Erie County budget.

Daniel Warren had argued the County Legislature acted improperly when ten members met behind closed doors in a private attorney's office downtown on the evening the budget was adopted.

While that was technically a violation of the state's open meetings law, Lane ruled there was no evidence that any budget decisions were made at that meeting.

Lane said he was "unwilling to impose a sanction for an isolated violation where no substantive agreement was reached."

But Lane did not dismiss Warren's suit, and further court action is planned.

County officials say the ruling means this year's property tax bills will be mailed to residents, starting this weekend. They say residents should have ample time to pay their bills by the February 15th deadline. On Thursday, the County Legislature had asked the state for permission to extend the deadline because of the delay in sending out the bills.

The Giambra administration Friday began printing layoff notices to 3,000 county employees. They'll be distributed over the coming days.

County Executive Joel Giambra ordered the layoffs because of the County Legislature's failure to come up with the ten votes to increase the sales tax to 9.25 percent. Without the $109 million in extra revenue, Giambra says the 2005 budget is out of balance.

Giambra and administration officials continued to maintain Friday that they have the legal authority to order the layoffs without Legislature approval.

Friday afternoon, Deputy Erie County Executive Bruce Fisher met with county department heads to begin planning the systematic shutdown of county facilities and services. He said public safety, from Sheriff's road patrols to public health monitoring, will be at risk.

"This is no joke," said Fisher. "It's very serious."

Surprisingly, Budget Director Joseph Passafiume told WBFO News Friday that libraries would remain open despite the drastic budget cuts.