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DeBenedetti May Vote for Sales Tax, Department Heads Prepare for Shutdown

By Eileen Buckley

Buffalo, NY – There is word Monday that Erie County Legislator Al DeBenedetti might reconsider his no vote against the sales tax increase.

The Buffalo News reports that the Buffalo Democrat is now saying he would vote in favor of the tax hike, but only if the Giambra administration vows to make serious spending cuts.

DeBenedetti has flip-flopped on the issue. He originally voted in favor of the penny increase at December's budget adoption meeting. But he later voted against the home rule message that sought state permission to raise the tax, demanding the administration cut deeper into spending.

The Erie County Legislature will vote Tuesday on the increase. If the vote fails and the budget crisis is not resolved this week, 3,000 county employees will be laid off February 7th. Without those workers, public safety and other emergency services will be in jeopardy.

Central Police Services Commissioner Kevin Comerford says he's already making plans to close the forensic lab by this Friday if the budget crisis is not resolved. Comerford says with pending layoffs in his department, he needs to prepare now in case the vote fails this week.

"Right now all the DNA tests that we process, as well as firearms and drug testing for the cases the district attorney needs to prosecute, wont' be available," Comerford said.

Comerford says he issued a letter to chiefs of police, warning that without the revenues from a sales tax increase, services will be cut. Emergency Services Commissioner Michael Walters closed the doors to the county's fire training facility in Cheektowaga Friday. He says he has lobbied all the county lawmakers who voted against the sales tax.

"Some are just absolutely adamant. They are digging their heels and say they will not do it," Walters said. "One legislator actually suggested to me that maybe we have to let it crash before we can fix it. In public safety, that is the most irresponsible comment I can imagine to hear. We don't want our system to crash for a minute."

Lawmakers will meet in special session Tuesday at 11am to vote again on the sales tax hike. So far, the County Executive has lined up nine votes in favor, but needs to secure a tenth in order to get the increase approved in Albany.

The county still has until Friday to produce a home rule message.