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OFFICIALS HEAR PUBLIC'S SIDE OF BUDGET ISSUES

Aldermen addressed comments from some of the 65 people attending their meeting Tuesday night, most from city employees hoping to avoid being laid off and others who argued against cutting services in a proposed 2005-06 budget.

Afterward, they held a special committee session closed to all but Mayor William J. Quinlan and members of his administration to discuss finalizing the controversial spending plan.

Aldermen received Quinlan's third budget proposal last Friday, totaling $19,748,659 and trimming about $344,000 from an earlier version, while lowering the projected 9.8 percent tax levy increase to less than 4 percent, according to instructions from the Common Council.

But none of the aldermen suggested voting on the package, and several asked that the mayor try to gain some concessions from the city's labor unions. Others seemed to favor returning to plans that would restructure the Public Works Department and increase sewer and water revenue by at least 3 percent.

The plan, which was not discussed in detail and was not provided to the public, would dismantle the civilian dispatch office and divert calls to the Cattaraugus County Sheriff's Department.

Michael Connelly, president of Olean Professional Firefighters Local 1796, said he heard reports of Fire Department layoffs and was told by the fire chief of the city administration's plan to cut 6 percent from every departmental budget, which translates to the equivalent of 3.7 firefighting jobs lost without regard for increased overtime.

"I hope the Common Council and the mayor will work it out, but I don't think we should be the only union to take a hit," Connelly said, suggesting that the mayor and the Council also trim their own spending.

During the public comments, Connelly said he had not been asked by the administration to make concessions for the latest budget draft.

Council President Raymond L. Wangelin said the plan discussed Tuesday would divert about $80,000 from the estimated $400,000 surplus fund balance and increase taxes by 1.95 percent.

Alderwoman Joyce Melfi made a case for a citywide reorganization, noting that residents expect services and that early retirements are made costly by pension payments.

Several aldermen noted that the water and sewer funds should not depend on the general fund contributions and that an examiner from the state comptroller's office had advised in March that those funds be self-supporting.

Alderman John Padlo urged continued investment in infrastructure and utility repairs.

The Council meets next Tuesday, three days before the budget must be adopted.

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