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PANEL PASSES ON PROPOSALS TO CUT TAXES

The proposed Niagara County property tax increase may have been reduced from 9 percent to 6 percent this week, but several ideas for saving money were skipped by the County Legislature's Administration Committee.

County Manager Gregory D. Lewis' proposal to abolish health insurance for legislators and part-time employees wasn't acted upon by the committee.

The panel killed Lewis' suggestions to do away with the Legislature clerk and the county auditor. Both motions failed for lack of a second.

Majority Leader Malcolm A. Needler, R- North Tonawanda, said the health insurance issue may be revisited. "I don't believe the county manager has a complete plan," he said.

Lewis' proposal did not estimate how much money would be saved by abolishing the health insurance. The county risk management office was unable to provide figures Wednesday for the cost of the benefits so far this year.

The regular audience speakers at Legislature meetings have been demanding for months that the benefits be done away with.

In March, the Legislature passed a new health insurance policy for itself, requiring legislators to pay 10 percent of the premiums and barring them from the county's self-insured health plan, which includes better benefits than the health maintenance organizations lawmakers now must consider.

At the time, only seven of the 19 legislators had health coverage; two are believed to have dropped it since then.

In July, the Legislature imposed the same health care restrictions on the 36 part-time attorneys, a list that includes some assistant district attorneys, public defenders, county attorneys and social services attorneys. At the time, 28 of the lawyers had county health coverage; an update was unavailable Wednesday.

Budget Director Daniel R. Huntington said Wednesday the administration sought to investigate the question in 2005 but wanted Legislature permission because lawmakers themselves are affected.

Lewis did determine that laying off Legislature Clerk Michael P. Carney and taking over the official duties himself would save $43,297 in salary and $11,171 in benefits next yar, but the lawmakers weren't interested in dropping that patronage position.

The panel also rejected Lewis' suggestion that the county auditor duties be privatized. It's another job controlled by the Legislature; auditor Ruth E. Ohol's current salary is $39,394.

The committee also skipped a Lewis proposal to raise fee revenue by 9 percent, although Needler said it could be reconsidered.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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