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Control Board Law Not Clear on What's Needed for Board to Become Hard

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – Erie County lawmakers appear ready to approve a half percent increase to the sales tax Tuesday. That would likely erase any reason for the Fiscal Stability Authority to convert to a hard control board. But it's still unclear if they could anyway.

The Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority is a creation of the state. A state law to be exact. And it's a beauty -- 101 pages of sections, clauses and provisions. The only problem is that no one seems to know what it says...well, at least not exactly. State Senator Dale Volker introduced the law. So, surely Volker can answer the question of what it would take for the advisory panel to convert to a hard control board. Is it only possible to make sure there is a balanced budget?

"Well, yeah, but it's also to guide a county that is not totally functioning," Volker said. "It really isn't."

The fuzzy area of the law seems to be number five of section 3959. It's the last reason in a list of guidelines for imposing a control period. The first four reasons are pretty clear. They deal with failing to meet financial requirements. But number five? It says..."if the county violates provisions of the Act." Even lawyers admit that's kind of vague. But the control board's attorney says he believes he could show lawmakers are already in violation. Still, State Assembly Majority Leader Paul Tokasz says a hard control may be possible -- but not necessary.

"I think if they come to a conclusion of a balanced budget, then I don't know why we would need a "hard" board in Erie County," Tokasz said.

Tokasz and Volker both believe lawmakers are finally poised to pass the controversial sales tax increase Tuesday that would effectively balance the budget. The tax would require action from state before January. The Assembly is not scheduled for a special session. But Tokasz says that's not a problem.

"There are all sorts of discussions going on to try to make that happen," Tokasz said. "I've always said the state government would be there for the county when they showed us they were prepared to govern."

Legislators meet at 4:00 Thursday to vote on the sales tax and the proposed 2006 budget. And the control board meets a day later.