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GRELICK SEEKS DETAILS ON COLLABORATION

Amherst Supervisor Susan J. Grelick, who has been criticized as not embracing regionalism, has invited two government-consolidation advocates to breakfast.

And a third -- County Executive Joel A. Giambra -- invited himself.

In March, Giambra, along with two top members of the Who Does What? Commission, will attend a "Coffee With the Boss" session Grelick holds monthly with her department heads.

Grelick said the town wants to hear additional details on, and ask questions about, a report the commission recently released suggesting ways government can save money through cooperation and consolidation.

Amherst, Grelick said, is looking for areas on which the town can work collaboratively with other municipalities but also wants to know if there will be any cost to the town.

"We are going to talk about the report, and try to come up with areas we can work collaboratively with other municipalities in the county, and even take a leadership role," Grelick said.

"We'll make it clear," the supervisor added, "our first responsibility is to our town and what benefits Amherst can receive."

Kenneth Vetter, the commission's program manager, said he and commission Chairman Charles M. Mitschow are pleased to be invited to Amherst, but Vetter said he won't know until after the meeting how interested Amherst is in the regionalism movement.

"I think when someone sits down to the table to listen, that is a good first
step," Vetter said. "If it is a situation where Amherst, the department heads, have looked at this and have an open mind, and are considering pieces of this that would make sense for Amherst, and they want to find out more, that is great."

Giambra -- who invited himself to the session after learning Vetter and Mitschow were invited -- said he is very encouraged by the meeting.

"The people of Amherst deserve at least an opportunity to look at the opportunity of stabilizing or lowering taxes," Giambra said.

The Who Does What? Commission -- spearheaded by the Buffalo Niagara Partnership -- on Jan. 30 released its report identifying 17 areas for potential collaboration and consolidation estimated to save governments $48 million annually.

Suggestions included pooling insurance bidding and investing among municipalities, centralizing tax billing and assessment, establishing a countywide geographic information system, and centralizing prison lockup at the Erie County Holding Center.

Shortly after release of the report, some commission members privately said Amherst was the least cooperative of any municipality surveyed, with the town making it difficult for the commission to get purchasing data, and making the commission pay $27 for a copy of the town budget, for example.

Giambra was so frustrated with the town's response to the commission that he publicly criticized Grelick.

"It all boils down to leadership," he said. "Where's the leadership?"

Others said they were concerned that lack of cooperation from Amherst -- the area's largest suburb as well as the area's commercial hub -- could slow progress on some of the commission's proposals.

Grelick said she contacted Giambra to tell him about the invitations she had extended to Vetter and Mitschow, and Giambra said he would also like to attend. The meeting was then moved to March 7, from March 6, to accommodate Giambra's schedule.

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