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2005 BUDGET TO RAISE TAXES, MAKE LAYOFFS

Niagara County Manager Gregory D. Lewis will release a $261 million budget for 2005 that will not include some of his most controversial recommendations.

Lewis this week presented a package of resolutions for consideration in committees that would sell the county golf course and privatize the senior citizen nutrition program -- but not until 2006.

The County Legislature completed a line-by-line review of the budget Tuesday after two work sessions of more than 3 1/2 hours each.

The only change in the budget made in the work sessions was the restoration of a drug treatment program for felons that Lewis had wanted to drop.

The Lewis budget calls for a 9 percent property tax increase. Budget Director Daniel R. Huntington said there will be eight or nine layoffs, while 113 positions -- almost all vacant -- would be eliminated.

The previous figure of 49 jobs cited by Lewis includes only positions he cut in whittling an early draft of the budget that would have raised taxes by 19 percent.

The budget will have an immediate impact on the parks system, because it does away with all seasonal employees.

Public Works Commissioner Kevin P. O'Brien said that loss means the parks will have to be closed two days a week during the summer, probably Mondays and Tuesdays, and may not open until noon on other days.

There also would be no swimming at Krull Park Beach in Olcott, because the seasonal employees include lifeguards there, O'Brien said.

The Legislature's committees will also be asked to consider laying off County Auditor Ruth E. Ohol and hiring a private firm to replace her; giving Lewis the job of Legislature clerk, thus laying off Michael P. Carney; and seeking proposals to privatize home health care services, speech and hearing services and County Jail food preparation and nursing services.

The layoffs include a junior civil engineer, senior engineering aide and a part-time typist in the Public Works Department; an assistant personnel records clerk and a secretary in the Human Resources Department; a family services specialist in the Health Department; and a chief welfare fraud investigator in the Sheriff's Department.

Sheriff Thomas A. Beilein said the long-range plan is to return the entire welfare fraud operation to the Social Services Department.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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