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Erie County Lawmakers Move to Cap Debt

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – Erie County lawmakers Thursday tackled legislation dealing with everything from re-opening beaches to health permit fees. Despite lengthy debate, they also managed to strike a compromise on capital borrowing.

The Giambra administration was seeking roughly $22 million for capital projects. That's over and above $32 million already bonded to cover the settlement with the Erie County Medical Center.

But lawmakers and the county's fiscal stability authority have said there needs to be what they called a debt diet.

How much to cut back, if at all, set off a debate at Thursday's legislature session. Minority Leader Barry Weinstein said there should be no borrowing.

"We should pay for the roads that need to be repaired on a pay as you go basis," said Weinstein.

9th District legislator Cynthia Locklear took the opposite view.

"I am concerned about several of the capital projects that really go to the conservation and maintenance of our infrastructure," said Locklear.

Still others called for a strict $7.2 million dollar cap that would cover only contractual projects.

In the end, a $12 million compromise finally passed by a vote of 11 to four. Chairwoman Lynn Marinelli co-sponsored the resolution.

"We are stuck with trying to find the approach that is between that which is responsible and that which is restrictive," said Marinelli. "And, frankly I think we are here as the fiscal house on behalf of the taxpayers we serve and what we're willing, on their behalf, to put on the credit card."

But adding $12 million to the county's debt could still be declined.

Lawmakers must reach a super majority - or 12 votes - once a formal bond resolution package is submitted to the legislature by the county comptroller.

The initial legislation also calls for a breakdown of the projects that the administration ultimately decides to include in that package.

Lawmakers also passed a resolution that would support the state's "Fair Share for Health Care" legislation. The bill would attempt to hold big box corporations responsible for employee health care.

But five legislators voted against the measure, some arguing the bill could put unreasonable burdens on other businesses as well, and ultimately hurt employees.

In yet other action, lawmakers voted to waive temporary food permit fees for charities, religious organizations and municipalities. The lost fees will cost the county roughly $79,000.

And lawmakers approved spending $10,000 to pay for life guards to reopen Wendt and Bennett beaches on weekends through the summer, beginning July 1.