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Lena D. Villella ended an almost yearlong fight to become city assessor by rejecting the appointment Monday.

Villella said she wasn't happy with the $49,043 salary or the benefits being offered.

Mayor Michael W. Tucker said he immediately called another candidate and offered him the position. Tucker wouldn't confirm it, but other City Hall officials told The Buffalo News the likely nominee was Peter J. Galarneau, a Lockport native who now serves as the assessor of four towns in Fulton County, northwest of Albany.

Tucker said he expects to hear from his choice today whether he will take the job at the salary Villella turned down.

Villella said she will remain as real property appraiser, the No. 2 position in the assessor's office. Her salary is to rise from $38,408 to $41,406 in 2005 under terms of the city's new contract with the Civil Service Employees' Association.

"They couldn't put on the table the commitment that the salary or the benefits would be there," Villella said.

Alderman Joseph C. Kibler, R-at Large, said Villella asked for a starting salary of about $53,000 during a meeting with the Common Council's Personnel Committee on Friday. He said the aldermen refused to negotiate because the assessor position is covered by a union contract with the Lockport City Managers Association.

Alderwoman Phyllis J. Green, R-2nd Ward, confirmed, "We couldn't negotiate with her because she's in a union, so all we could offer her was the $49,000 (that was in the job posting)."

The former assessor, Gerald P. Cash, was earning that sum when he retired in April.

For months, Tucker resisted offering the post to Villella because he insisted the City Charter requires the assessor to live in the city. Villella, a Royalton resident who has been a city employee for 17 years, disagreed.

After Villella's 90-day appointment as interim assessor expired, the city ended up borrowing Town of Lockport Assessor Kevin Van Dusen while it conducted a job search. Villella applied and came out on top of the field of 37 applicants, 10 of whom were interviewed.

Tucker said Friday he decided to back down on residency and appoint Villella.


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