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OPINION FROM STATE SIMPLIFIES CHARTER PROCESS

It could be easier to get a county charter with a county executive passed in Niagara County than previously thought.

County Treasurer David S. Broderick disclosed Wednesday that an attorney for the New York Department of State has issued an opinion that a charter need only receive a simple majority vote in a referendum.

Previously, it was thought that a charter needed separate majorities from all city-dwelling voters and all town-dwelling voters.

Niagara County had a charter briefly in 1975-76 until the U.S. Supreme Court struck it down on grounds that the 1974 referendum that seemed to approve it had actually failed because the overall majority for approval did not include a majority from the 12 towns.

Broderick revealed the opinion from state attorney Harry J. Willis during a meeting of the county Charter Commission. Willis said that separate majorities are needed in the towns only if the proposed charter takes away some of the municipalities' power and gives it to the county.

If the charter merely reorganizes county government and leaves the cities, towns and villages alone, only a simple countywide majority vote is needed to pass it, according to Willis' opinion.

Broderick said Willis' opinion makes him wonder what was wrong with the 1974 charter that caused it to be struck down. He said he could not recall that document's containing any change in town power.

However, county Budget Director Sharon Sacco said the 1974 charter set up boards for the county water and sewer districts that were to be composed of county legislators instead of town supervisors, as has traditionally been the case.

Wednesday's news came as the commission decided to vote on whether it will pursue a county executive or some other new form of government during its next meeting, on Feb. 21, or the following meeting, on March 7.

The commission also learned that any charter must be approved by the County Legislature at least 60 days before the Nov. 6 election to qualify for this year's ballot.

Because a public hearing process is required, it means, in effect, that the commission has to deliver a charter to the Legislature by mid-July.

"There was a fairly strong consensus that can be achieved," said commission Chairman Samuel P. Granieri, a Republican legislator from Niagara Falls.

The County Legislature on Tuesday appropriated $5,000 for the commission's expenses and asked the state for $20,000 more. County Attorney Claude A. Joerg said his staff cannot handle the charter without outside help.

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