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It is refreshing to see a more moderate attitude developing over the proposed financing of new professional sports facilities in the Buffalo area.

For years there has been unchecked enthusiasm for sports in the region. Citizens have seemed all too willing to accept plans for new sports facilities without much questioning.

Now we are hearing calls for restraint on the commitment of public funds, some from surprising sources. Buffalo News columnist Donn Esmonde wrote that we may be better off to keep minor league baseball and forget about the big leagues.

The News has said editorially that taxpayers can't afford major league baseball at any cost, and the same newspaper has called for the owners of the Buffalo Sabres to put up some of their own money to help build the new hockey arena that they want.

Even Buffalo Mayor James Griffin, an ardent sports booster, wants the Sabres to chip in. He has expressed disappointment at financial proposals the city has received from the Buffalo Bison baseball team for expansion of Pilot Field. Moreover, Bisons' owner Bob Rich Jr. said he is now wondering if "the price tag for expansion may simply be too high."

I believe it is now time for a referendum. The taxpayers, the people ultimately responsible for paying the bills, should have the final say on whether they want to invest millions in a new hockey arena and the expansion of Pilot Field.

It is inappropriate for elected officials to commit huge amounts of public funds for borderline projects such as sports complexes without first consulting the people.

And the only accurate measure of support, or lack of support, is a referendum. Elected officials should take the lead in calling for a referendum, rather than waiting for a petition drive to twist their arms.

How could government officials, who are a part of the democratic process, object to anything as democratic as a referendum? And if Bob Rich has the tremendous support from the community that he says he has for big league baseball, he has nothing to fear from a referendum.

So let's have a vote -- a referendum -- to see if the people of this region really want to spend millions to build these sports arenas. And don't forget that Ralph Wilson is waiting in the wings to come on stage with a demand for a domed football stadium one of these days.


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