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County Legislature Seeks NFTA Sales Tax Revenue to Help Close Deficit

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – Erie County lawmakers tackled a number of legislative items during rapid fire session late Monday afternoon. But how much impact any of the action will have on the ballooning budget deficit remains to be seen.

After convening, lawmakers swiftly made their way through a 13-page agenda. For a change, there was lots of agreement. But in reality, what was agreed upon may have little, if any, impact on the at least $14 million lingering deficit.

Lawmakers unanimously backed a plan to have the state take over the county's sales tax contribution to NFTA. The $16 million savings would be used to restore some vital services. But some lawmakers, including Chuck Swanick, say it may be wishful thinking.

"This would be a very satisfactory way to deal with our problem," said Swanick. "But if there is any consideration that they may not do it, I don't want all of us to lose sight of the fact that we have to close a deficit, if this doesn't happen."

The matter is being sent to Albany seeking state approval. Another iffy resolution -- to cut salaries countywide by ten percent -- also passed unanimously. That measure is contingent upon union approval. Republican Barry Weinstein says the Legislature shouldn't wait to do the right thing.

"I consider this proposal to cut the Legislatures' salary by ten percent to be less than sincere," said Weinstein. "If you wanted to make it sincere, you make it non-contingent upon negotiating with the unions, or any other people."

Weinstein says negotiations with the unions could tie up the proposed pay cuts indefinitely. But county residents won't have to wait long for a review of the county's finances. As expected, lawmakers approved a request seeking a full financial review by the state comptroller. A team from the state Comptroller's office is expected to begin pouring over the county's books by week's end.

In the meantime, lawmakers continue to fine tune and patch the beleaguered 2005 budget. Twenty-five sheriff's department positions were restored, by shifting road patrols to the jail. The restorations are paid for with savings in overtime.

A resolution is also being considered on Thursday to restore thirteen positions to the health department. The jobs, which are needed to keep two east side health clinics open, would be paid for with the budget's contingency fund.