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Public Hearing on Proposed 2007 Erie County Budget Could be Moot

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – Monday night, Erie County lawmakers heard what the public thinks about the proposed 2007 budget. But Democrats might already have decided what the final budget will look like.

Virtually every county department or funded agency is looking for a piece or a bigger piece of the county pie.

Arts leaders were among those who turned out Monday night, hoping to have funding restored after two years with none. Laurie Dean Torrell is Executive Director of the Just Buffalo Literary Center.

She said they must fight hard now to regain funding.

Arts groups plan a flood of calls and letters to lawmakers right up until the expected budget vote on Friday.

But it might be too late.

Maria Whyte is Legislature's Majority Leader. She said lawmakers have reached consensus on a number of items for the amended budget that will be presented Wednesday.

That includes voting against roughly $1.5 million of new fees. Whyte said they also agree more money is needed for the libraries, tourism, and probation. And she said that means cuts will have to come from other places.

Among the areas to be cut are about a dozen new jobs, some vacancies, and non-union pay raises, as well as funding the culturals.

Just how much might be trimmed from the proposed $5.3 million currently earmarked for the culturals appears to be one of the only remaining questions.

While some organizations and departments might not be happy, according to Whyte, members of the county's Fiscal Stability Authority reviewed and approved of the proposed amendments.

But she said County Executive Joel Giambra might not be as pleased.

If he vetoes additions to the budget, lawamkers would need ten votes to over ride.

That could be a problem, both now and later. At least one Democrat has already vowed to vote against the budget. Cynthia Locklear said she is also reconsidering her initial vote in favor of extending the three quarters of a cent sales tax.

If the final sales tax vote fails in January, there would be a roughly $100 million hole in the 2007 budget.

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