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Do you care who plows snow off the street in front of your house?

Regionalism proponents say no. But county legislators insist you do -- especially if it hits you in the wallet.

A meeting of the Erie County Legislature's Regionalism Committee -- held Tuesday to consider for the first time the proposals made by the Who Does What? Commission -- turned into the Great Snowplow Debate of 2000-01. There were two main camps:

Those who want Erie County to turn its roads over to the towns and villages for plowing.

Those who think the towns and villages would be stupid for taking on such a chore.

"I just really don't see that happening," Ronald Witnauer said bluntly.

Witnauer, who is highway superintendent in Clarence and president of a local association of highway officials, said towns and villages already are strapped when it comes to snowplowing.

"Some of these towns, in the Southtowns, would have to go out and hire men, they're going to have to add equipment, and they're just not interested in that," Witnauer said.

Legislators from both sides of the aisle -- in a rare moment of agreement -- said that turning the plowing burden over to towns and villages would end up costing local municipalities more money. That is not fair for taxpayers, they said.

"It's either on our tax bills or on their tax bills," said Legislature Chairman Charles M. Swanick, D-Kenmore. "This isn't about service. It's all about money. It would be a major cost shift."

Legislator Steven P. McCarville, R-Orchard Park, said some of the county's smaller towns and villages cannot bear such a burden alone.

"To buy a truck, or extra people to provide manpower, is a huge burden on them," McCarville said. "You've got to find a way to make that up to them."

Defending the proposal were members of the Who Does What? Commission, led by the Buffalo Niagara Partnership at the direction of County Executive Joel A. Giambra, a Republican.

The commission released its final report, including 17 recommendations for consolidation and streamlining efforts throughout the county, late last month.

Commission members cited facts and figures to show that Erie County could save a lot of money -- maybe as much as $2 million -- by shifting its snowplowing duties to local municipalities:

Erie County has 3,117 lane-miles of county roadways to plow, almost four times as much as the statewide average for counties. About 1,200 of those lane-miles are already plowed by someone other than county crews.

Transportation time, to get county plows out to far-flung towns and villages, is much greater than if the municipalities did the plowing themselves. That extra transportation time eats up a lot of money, commission members said.

Other counties in New York neither plow nor do maintenance on their roadways. All of those jobs are contracted out to municipalities.

Kenneth J. Vetter, project manager for the commission, said towns and villages are the most efficient and effective way to get roads plowed.

"They do them quickly, they do them better, and they tend to be more responsive than people at the county level," said Vetter. "It is cheaper for municipalities to do this."

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