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Another Sales Tax Hike for Erie County

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo – More than a year of budget strife may have ended Tuesday. Erie County lawmakers approved the 2006 budget - and the controversial half percent sales tax increase by a vote of ten to five.

It took about five minutes for ten lawmakers to say "yes" to the increase. Republicans Charles Swanick, Jeannie Chase and Steve McCarville joined Democrats to approve the crucial measure. McCarville says it was either a 70% property tax hike or the sales tax. And he says for him that was an easy call.

"We were only down to those two choices. Anyone who wanted to make more cuts never laid them on the table. I think it was a smoke for Legislators who didn't want to take the vote. But at the end of the day, you have to decided you are here to serve the community or yourself," said MCCarville.

In the end, Republican Denise Marshall, who had also considered voting yes, stood firm for no tax hikes. The approved budget also includes a host of increased fees, as well as the sales tax increase. Marshall says it was a difficult decision for her.

"I think it is important that this area does not see a property tax increase so I am glad to see that it was a sales tax increase that was implemented." said Marshall.

At least one member of the County's Fiscal Stability Authority was also glad the tax was approved. Stanley Keysa observed quietly at the back corner of legislative chambers. The Control Board meets later today, and had threatened a hard control period if lawmakers failed to act. Keysa says residents should thank the courageous lawmakers. He says this allows the county to move forward toward stability.

"This really sets the stage for the next round of efforts of trying to balance and bring this government to an efficiency that is affordable," said Keysa.

There were cuts included in the budget package. The roughly four million proposed last week will trim 56 positions, while adding 13 jobs. But the entire budget is still precariously balanced on the sales tax hike, which still needs state action, and a final vote locally to enact the tax. That is all expected to happen before the end of the year.