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Erie County Legislature to Vote on 2006 Budget Tuesday

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – A vote to increase the sales tax by half a percent in Erie County was postponed again Thursday. The vote is now scheduled for Tuesday. And the Fiscal Stability Authority says it will also move its meeting to Wednesday, to see what happens.

Tuesday at 4:00 is the new time for the controversial vote. At that time, lawmakers also plan to vote on the entire proposed 2006 budget. That budget was trimmed by another $4.3 million during closed door sessions Thursday. Because of those amendments, lawmakers must now wait 48 hours before they can vote. Since Friday is a holiday, that pushed the vote to Tuesday. But Chairman George Holt says the additional cuts -- and time -- should allow them to secure the ten votes needed for the tax increase.

"There's been an appetite in this legislature to do some reductions before we take any action in terms of a sales tax," said Holt. "Hopefully, this could be the deal maker."

The cuts would eliminate about 56 positions. Many are youth detention workers. And some are political positions. Newly elected Republican Sheriff Tim Howard is slated to lose three top employees, including his special assistant and spokesperson. Among other areas, the Convention and Visitors Bureau would lose another $450,000. But those cuts are not the main factor for the lawmaker who now appears to be a crucial swing vote. Republican Steve McCarville says the real issue for him is the possibility of a default budget. That's why he says he may vote for the sales tax increase.

"Only because we are down to the lesser of two evils," said McCarville. "We only have two choices, and only two choices -- either a default budget, with a property tax increase or the sales tax increase. Anyone who tells you there are other ways out of this at this point is being totally disingenuous."

Still, McCarville says he's not ready to commit to a yes vote on Tuesday just yet. The advisory board had threatened to convert to a hard Control Board if lawmakers didn't act before it meets. But Chairman Holt says he believes they legally have to wait. According to some officials, the legislation which created the control board will make it difficult for it to go hard. Some describe the wording as "too thin" to allow that latitude, especially if a budget is in place by December 7th.