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Seven Member Board Created to Oversee Erie County Finances

By Mark Scott

Buffalo, NY – A seven member fiscal oversight board is being imposed on Erie County.

Governor Pataki and state legislative leaders agreed Tuesday on the creation of what will be known as the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority. Pataki said the board will begin its work in an advisory role. But he said the county itself will be responsible for solving its problems or face the prospect of greater control.

"By October 1st, it requires Erie County to put forward a four year financial plan," Pataki said. "It will require them to meet certain financial benchmarks, including adopting a balanced budget by January 1st.

"If any of those conditions are not met, the control board will move from its oversight role and will become a hard control board with the ability to make the necessary decisions."

County Executive Joel Giambra says he welcomes such a board. Giambra said he and Pataki held a private conversation about the best approach for solving the county's problems when the Governor visited the region last Friday.

"We talked extensively of the need," Giambra said. "He asked very specific questions about what is the amount of outstanding debt. They were very intelligent questions. And we gave him very specific answers.

"It appears the Governor believes that Erie County is not ready for a full-blown control board based on what he's proposing."

The board will bring with it $50 million in state aid over five years that would be earmarked for government consolidation initiatives. State officials say the city of Buffalo is also eligible to apply for what's described as state efficiency funding.

Assembly Majority Leader Paul Tokasz says the county oversight board will be formally approved by the State Legislature by Thursday's adjournment. He said it would be his preference that all appointees to the board be familiar with county government and have backgrounds in finance and management.

County Legislature Majority Leader Lynn Marinelli says she remains opposed to any state imposed board for Erie County. She said she's disappointed by the action of state leaders. Marinelli says she doesn't see the need for this kind of board.

"This board will be giving advice. But we've already set up a citizens budget commission and a charter review commission. We're working with the Buffalo Niagara Partnership on a stablization effort. We're going door-to-door, talking with constituents directly," Marinelli said. "That's a lot of advice."

Still, Marinelli says she's willing to work with the new board. But she points out it remains the responsibility of the County Legislature to make the difficult budget decisions.