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TAXPAYER GROUPS PUSH DIFFERENT AGENDAS

Two taxpayer groups with different agendas met separately here Thursday evening.

Buffalo attorney James Ostrowski tried to spread the word about his Free Buffalo group to about 30 people in the Tuscarora Club. He called for an emphasis on statewide issues.

Three blocks away, another 30 people attended the second meeting of the Niagara County Taxpayers Association in the Lockport Public Library. The group discussed several current county topics before deciding to try to do away with benefits for part-time attorneys employed by the county.

Ostrowski told his audience that he wants to build Free Buffalo, which was formed during the recent Erie County budget crisis, into a statewide organization. He envisioned autonomous local chapters supporting a "citizens' think tank" which will research major issues and distribute its results over the Internet. He said he looked at a vacant storefront on Hertel Avenue in Buffalo on Thursday as a possible headquarters.

Ostrowski urged financial contributions to support what he called an "apolitical, nonpartisan" group. He urged everyone to attend a $10 fund- raising party May 28 at the Central Terminal in Buffalo.

"We're up against full-time, professionally staffed organizations. We're not going to beat them with amateurs," Ostrowski said, envisioning a "dream budget" of $300,000 a year for his think tank.

"We're not going to wait for that to start," he said, adding the first issue to be taken on is public employee pensions, followed by Medicaid.

He said he approved of Primary Challenge, another tax revolt group that is recruiting candidates for office in Erie and Niagara counties, but said Free Buffalo and its Free Niagara branch shouldn't become directly involved in campaigns, to maintain credibility.

"Somebody's got to run and knock these incumbents out. But somebody's got to give them ideas," Ostrowski said.

He promised that his group will hold few meetings and make few demands on members. "You can't ask too much of people or they get burned out. We do the heavy lifting," Ostrowski said. "Everybody else in this economy is struggling to survive."

Ostrowski called for low taxes, abolishing industrial development agencies, cutting public officials' pay 10 percent, reducing public employee pensions and resisting efforts to consolidate local governments.

Meanwhile, at the library, Fred Laskey, a disabled laborer, assigned some of the 30 people at the Taxpayers' Association meeting to research various aspects of the part-time attorney benefits issue.

"If we get the facts, maybe they'll see not as many need to be aboard the ship," Laskey said. "If they know we're looking, they might take action without us having to do anything."

Contrary to Ostrowski's emphasis on lack of meetings, the Taxpayers Association spent several minutes trying to set dates for more meetings. It settled on May 26, June 22 and July 21, all at 7 p.m. in the library.

Laskey wanted to take July off, but other members urged that they couldn't lose any momentum with a county election coming up in November.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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