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LEGISLATURE VOTES TONIGHT ON $8.57 MILLION MORE IN TOBACCO FUNDS

The County Legislature is expected to vote at 7 p.m. today on spending another $8.57 million from its tobacco revenues.

This would bring the amount allocated to $13.5 million, leaving $5.5 million left available from the county's sale of its portion of the national tobacco lawsuit settlement.

After a two-hour struggle Tuesday between city and town representatives, the legislators agreed on a batch of projects to be included in a single resolution.

The package includes $2 million worth of heavy equipment purchases, which may enable the county to help the cities of Niagara Falls, Lockport and North Tonawanda by giving them used trucks and lending them street sweepers.

However, the legality of the arrangements was to be reviewed today. The county has a legal opinion from its Wall Street bond counsel that it can't give the cities any of the tobacco money. It must be spent only on things that the county owns and controls.

Also included are $2.3 million for reconstruction of Beach Ridge Road in Pendleton; $1.2 million for reconstruction and bridge replacement on Loveland Road in Wheatfield; $1.77 million for building repairs at Niagara County Community College; $1 million for computer equipment; and an additional $300,000 for the new public safety building.

The Legislature had already allocated $2.5 million in tobacco money for the public safety building, but Emergency Management Director James C. Volkosh said scaling the building down from the proposed $3.7 million left a communications center for the Sheriff's Department that was smaller than the current one.

Legislator Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, presented a $1.6 million plan to buy the county Public Works Department "nine or 10" new tandem-axle trucks, while giving nine used trucks, none of them older than 16 years, to the cities. Virtuoso proposed four for Niagara Falls, three for North Tonawanda and two for Lockport.

"We asked the cities what they needed, and they said it was the heavy equipment," Virtuoso said. "They said they were willing to take our surplus."

Virtuoso also proposed having the county buy four new street sweepers and lend them to the cities.

"I didn't hear the towns in that proposal," said Legislator Gerald K. Farnham, R-Lockport, whose district includes Pendleton.

"We're doing a lot of road projects, and the (county and town) highway departments already share a lot of vehicles," Virtuoso answered. "If Niagara Falls fails, the whole county fails."

Legislator Renae Kimble, D-Niagara Falls, complained: "Tourism is big in the city. Our streets are filthy. We have potholes up the wazoo. . . . Here you are, getting a new emergency services building. We're asking for some raggedy old vehicles."

Legislator Lee Simonson, R-Lewiston, said the county should buy a large piece of equipment that every municipality could borrow, increasing Virtuoso's plan to $2 million.

Legislator Gerald E. Meal, R-Royalton, suggested a pavement grinder. Exactly what would be bought was left unsettled.

Some legislators wanted to include a $2.14 million package of repairs to various county buildings, but it was set aside for the time being.

However, the space allocation question is becoming urgent. The regional office of the state Office of Court Administration submitted a letter reminding the county that state law requires it to provide adequate court facilities, and seeking tobacco money for another 18,400 square feet of court-related space.

The legislators set that aside, because they were convinced it would require the county to construct a whole new building, estimated at $14 million, and at any rate they couldn't do it in time to meet the legal requirement that all the tobacco money be spent by November 2002.

The notion of buying all or part of Summit Park Mall for county office use was brought up again by Legislator Malcolm A. Needler, R-North Tonawanda, but that was also set aside for another day.

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