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TAXPAYER GROUP'S SPLIT LEADS TO LOCAL FOCUS

A fledgling Niagara County taxpayers group will have a local focus, after most of the people who wanted to concentrate on state issues walked out of Thursday's inaugural meeting.

The group will be known as the Niagara County Taxpayers Association. Fred Laskey, a disabled Lockport laborer who called the meeting, wanted to call it the Niagara County Taxpayers Union, but that did not go over well with many of those attending.

"I was in a union for 33 years. I don't want to be in a union anymore," said Jim Filipertis of the Town of Lockport, a Delphi Thermal retiree.

Thirty-five people came to the meeting in the Lockport Public Library. The group reflected a cross-section of the county, including professionals, industrial workers, retirees, homemakers and three former elected officials: former County Legislator Branko Sedlacek of North Tonawanda and former Lockport Aldermen Elroy D. Powley and Jacob Kern Jr.

Most of the first hour was spent ridiculing the County Legislature, but discord appeared in the second hour, when Laskey took on those whose primary concern was state issues.

The division began to show during a discussion of the county's practice of offering health insurance to part-time attorneys. More than two dozen lawyers draw such benefits.

"I think we need to set an easily achievable goal to give the group credibility," said Dr. Jeffrey Schratz, a Lockport heart surgeon. "I think the lowest-hanging fruit is those part-time attorneys."

Lynn A. Garcia of Lewiston, president of Globe-Lynx Group, said, "I'm not in favor of picking on small items in the county budget. This group is going to fall apart like all the others."

Laskey said, "You affect your local politicians. They affect the next level. . . . You're asking us -- and this is a big feat -- to take on the unions the politicians won't even take on."

Garcia's husband, Daniel J. Barufaldi, president of the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda Chamber of Commerce, insisted that the county's problems have their roots in Albany. He urged coordination with other taxpayer groups across the state.

"If you don't grab the people at the state level by the throat," Barufaldi said, "you're wasting your time. . . . The only place you can go is to the state, because they're the only ones with the answers."

Barufaldi insisted that the economy is so weak that immediate big-picture action is needed.

The discussion grew more heated, with Laskey finally telling Barufaldi, "I'm very offended that you came here with your alarmist attitude."

Within moments, as the meeting dissolved into a welter of side arguments, about half the crowd left.

Laskey talked tough, saying such things as "You want to write letters, you're in the wrong group" and "The only way (officials) answer to the public is when they're embarrassed or harassed."

But by the end of the meeting, Laskey was asking for volunteers to write a mission statement, a course urged by Powley.

Schratz and James W. Cox of the Town of Lockport, a supervisor at the Freed Maxick & Battaglia accounting firm, agreed to take on the task. Another meeting was set for 7 p.m. April 28 in the library.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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