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County Legislature to Take Two Sales Tax Votes

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – A plan is in place that will allow Erie County legislators to take the remaining votes Tuesday that are necessary to enact the sales tax increase.

A serious procedural snag nearly unraveled the tax hike. State lawmakers need to cast their votes as part of the process. But they won't return to Albany until January. And that meant a new batch of county lawmakers -- also coming in in January -- could have nixed the increase. But state lawmakers say they've figured out a way around the dilemma that is legal -- if somewhat unorthodox. Local lawmakers will take both of their votes today, and state lawmakers will take their votes -- belatedly -- in January. Democratic Majority Leader Lynn Marinelli says she's comfortable with that.

"I'm being told that this is the way we can proceed," said Marinelli. "And, frankly, I don't see any better alternative."

The alternative, she says, would be a default budget with a sole increase to property tax payers. Since many state lawmakers also believe that's a poor solution, they came up with the unusual voting procedure. Someone could challenge the plan. But Greg Stamm, who is the attorney for the County's Fiscal Stability Authority, says the plan is legal.

"We've been given every assurance in Albany that since it is not a constitutional issue, but a statutory issue, that they will be able to put sufficient language in the bill to make sure that we do not have to depend on a vote from a new legislature after January one," said Stamm. "And that the only thing that will be slowed down will be the effective date of the sales tax until January 15th."

That date will result in about a $2.5 million tax revenue shortfall. According to Marinelli, dealing with the gap will be only one of the many items on the Legislature's agenda for next year.

"There are just scores and scores of reform initiatives that we are all as a community, and those of us elected to represent the community, going to have to monitor and watch for throughout the new year," said Marinelli.

Lawmakers hope those reforms will assure the county never faces another sales tax deadline crisis again.