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Erie County Officials Differ on Fiscal Future

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – Who should be in charge of Erie County government? Some officials believe disagreement over that basic principal is at the heart of the fiscal stalemate.

A majority of lawmakers squeaked out approval of a four-year fiscal plan. But one big piece is still missing - the revenue.

The legislature is being criticized for the incomplete plan - by some in their own house, by some in the community, and by some on the County's Fiscal Stability Authority.

Control Board member Sheila Kee isn't one of them. She blames those who won't act.

"There are seven legislators, the majority of who seem to be voting against everything..." said Kee. "We all have to understand that the time for politics has ended and it's now time to problem-solve."

But, according to Interim Comptroller James Hartman, politics is in full swing.

Hartman, who three months ago had wanted to quietly build consensus, has released two statements recently blasting critics of the approved plan.

Hartman says he's frustrated by others who have no intention of solving problems. He believes there's another agenda.

"Part of what's happening now in the legislature is there is this debate as to whether or not the legislature will continue to be the effective fiscal policy making body, or simply let the Control Board take over."

Hartman says that would be a huge mistake. He says, along with all the other negatives that come with a Control Board would be a default budget.

And he says that would mean a property tax increase to raise $88 million next year.

And he says a Control Board would mean years of policy by a non-elected body.

Board member Sheila Kee says she's hoping that won't happen. But she says, so far, they've been operating in a vacuum.

"I think it would be very appropriate to have dialogue with the legislators, and to be able to share and exchange ideas and to have direct communication," said Kee. "I think the worst thing we could do is to isolate ourselves from the people, who, ultimately, are elected to make the decisions."

The Control Board meets Thursday to discuss those issues, as well as what to do with the incomplete plan approved by lawmakers.