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EXECUTIVE, FEWER LAWMAKERS BEING URGED

The County Legislature may direct its Charter Commission to include a county executive and a smaller Legislature in its proposed charter.

The 15-member commission, which includes only two legislators, had already reached an informal consensus in favor of a county executive, according to its chairman, Legislator Samuel P. Granieri, R-Niagara Falls.

Just to make it official, Granieri has introduced a resolution for Wednesday's Legislature meeting which would "endorse a referendum with the county executive."

That wouldn't make it official. The Legislature would still have to approve the actual charter in order to place it on the November ballot. Not a word of the charter has actually been written yet.

Meanwhile, the Legislature's Administration Committee voted unanimously Thursday to advise the committee to include fewer legislators than the current 19. It was unclear whether that would reach the Legislature floor Wednesday or at the next meeting March 6.

Legislature Chairman Clyde L. Burmaster said he wasn't sure if there would be a vote Wednesday on the directive to write an executive into the charter, or if Granieri's resolution would be sent to the Administration Committee.

Thursday, that panel considered a resolution from Legislator William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield, to begin the process of reducing the size of the Legislature.

But Legislator Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, amended Ross' proposal to direct the commission to shrink the Legislature, although leaving the exact number up to the commission.

"I think a direction from their Legislature to the Charter Commission would help tremendously," he said. "It would help sell the county executive."

"Exactly, Dennis. That's the whole point," said Ross. "You're financing the extra layer of government."

In other words, executive supporters plan to counter the argument that an executive would be too costly by pointing to savings from having fewer legislators.

The lawmakers are now paid $15,075 per year, with the two party leaders receiving an extra $500 and the chairman an additional $3,000.

Ross said he would like to see a 9- or 11-member Legislature if there were an executive.

However, this year, the voters will elect 19 legislators. Granieri said if the charter passes, the county executive and the smaller Legislature would be elected in November 2003 to take office in January 2004.

"If that all-inclusive referendum fails, you could have another referendum reducing the size of the Legislature," said Granieri. "That could be done in the 2002 cycle for the 2003 election."

Ross said if the charter with the executive is defeated at the polls, he would still support reducing the Legislature from 19 to 15. He said at least that many would be needed to maintain the current committee system of government.

"We're moving in the right direction," said Ross.

Virtuoso said the county should skip redrawing the 19 district boundaries this year, as is normally required the year after a federal census. "You wouldn't want to redistrict and then cut the Legislature down the following year," he said.

New district lines would have to be drawn if the Legislature's membership is reduced, meaning the county might have to redistrict in consecutive years.

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