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County Legislature Approves Cuts, No Agreement on Sales Tax

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – Erie County residents are still waiting to find out the fate of their government services. After another grueling late night session Monday, lawmakers again pushed off the deadline on a sales tax vote.

The bickering and indecision are all too familiar refrains to residents by now. Lawmakers recessed Monday night after reaching another impasse over the budget -- more specifically over the much debated sales tax hike. A three-quarters percent hike for one year was defeated but not recorded before recess was called. The new deadline? We're told it really is Tuesday.

Meanwhile, a package of cuts was approved -- roughly $39 million. Legislator Al DeBenedetti, who voted no on both measures, called the Legislature's actions irresponsible.

"If they're willing to do the revenue, I'll be happy to change my vote to be in favor of the cuts," DeBenedetti said. "But I'm only voting for it if you do the entire package and put the budget back in balance."

The cuts, so far approved, trim all areas roughly five to ten percent. They also eliminate pork and take large chunks out of patronage. Still left mostly intact would be vital police and health services, as well as some cultural funding. Sheriff Patrick Gallivan says he can live with the cuts as they stand now.

"I can make those cuts and still provide services," Gallivan said. "I don't like them. But they don't go as deep as the cuts that would be necessary to close a $108 million hole."

But without another $54 million in extra revenue, much deeper cuts will follow. Democratic Majority Leader Lynn Marinelli says the cuts would be more deliberate, but not substantially different from the red budget.

"Let's not kid each other. If we're coming back here doing a vote that's taking out another similar amount, that will cause deep pain and a dismantling of county government," Marinelli said.

Some lawmakers who voted against the sales tax say a half penny -- or only a nine month increase in the sales tax -- would be more palatable. But the distance and the details of a compromise would seem impossible to close in the few short hours remaining.