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County Legislature Approves $14 Million for Bass Pro

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – The Erie County Legislature yesterday approved spending $14 million of tobacco settlement funds to help get the Bass Pro project going.

The money will not be used for the mega store itself. But it will be used for infrastructure work at the inner harbor that's needed to bring it here.

The measure was strongly debated before it passed by a vote of eleven to three. Democrat Al DeBenedetti and Republicans Barry Weinstein and Michael Ranzenhofer were opposed. They agreed the project was worthwhile. But DeBenedetti says this is no time to be spending money on anything.

"That's been a historical problem here, our spending," said DeBenedetti. "Dr. Weintstein and I have been harping about that for at least the last three years - that we just keep spending money we don't have. We keep borrowing and spending. That's a significant reason for the problem we have."

In fact, $12 million of the funds were previously earmarked to pay off debt in 2006. Ranzenhofer says that amendment was thrown in at the last minute and he still has questions.

"There was nobody here to talk about it, nobody here to explain it..." said Ranzenhofer. "That's one of the problems, and I harken back to the budget, when things are thrown in at the last minute, it raises some red flags."

Weinstein agreed, saying this could leave an extra $12 million hole next year. He says it would take a five percent property increase just to fill that. But other lawmakers argued the spending is appropriate. They say the county comptroller cautioned about using tobacco funds for anything except long term projects, such as Bass Pro. And Swanick says the project is desperately needed for long overdue waterfront development.

No timetable was available about when the work will begin. But this was the local funding piece of the puzzle that was necessary for Bass Pro to build on Buffalo's waterfront.