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Erie County's Fiscal Watchdog Rips into Four-Year Plan

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – Erie County Comptroller James Hartman said the County Executive's four-year plan fails to honestly balance the budget.

Hartman strongly recommends that lawmakers not approve the plan.

The interim Comptroller said lawmakers asked him to weigh in on the plan once it was completed. So, Hartman did just that.

He sent a detailed letter to the Erie County Legislature Wednesday, laying out his objections.

He worries a bit about savings from initiatives penciled in for later years.

But Hartman's biggest concern is that the plan calls for about $47 million of deficit borrowing to balance the budget in 2006.

The cost would be $66 million over thirteen years.

Hartman said that is an expensive way of delaying the inevitable.

"I think people are tired of this discussion and this debate," said Hartman. "We should raise the taxes, as the plan is telling us to do. We should do it in one year, instead of two and move on."

But Hartman does not fault County Executive Joel Giambra for the deficit borrowing idea.

That idea, Hartman said, came from the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority. The Comptroller said he is at a loss to understand why.

"Deficit financing for next year was really proposed and, in fact, insisted upon by some of the authority members, with the help of the consultants," said Hartman. "And then we sort of have the irony of other authority members then immediately criticizing the borrowing in public. So, I think it's confusing and I think they need to sit back and decide what their appropriate role is in this process."

Hartman believes the Control Board should reserve opinion until a plan is presented to them on October 1.

He said it is up to lawmakers to decide on any modifications to the plan. Hartman offers two alternatives.

He said the eight million dollars needed can either come all from property taxes, or, he said lawmakers could opt for a combination of sales and property tax hikes.

Any changes must be made, and agreed upon by lawmakers within the next two weeks. The legislature meets as a body Thursday.