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Giambra spending plan lambasted Control board says blueprint relies too heavily on tax, debt increases

Erie County's control board Friday lambasted the Giambra administration for a lack of creativity and innovation, one more indication it may remain a "hard" board with broad powers over county finances.

Board members, in a series of feisty exchanges with County Budget Director James Hartman, suggested the administration's four-year financial plan relies too heavily on tax and debt increases and not enough on cost-saving initiatives.

"It's very bold on borrowing and very bold on raising the property and sales tax," said John Johnson, a member of the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority, "and it's not as bold or aggressive on how we can save taxpayers' money."

If the tenor or substance of the board's critique is any indication of its plans, it seems destined to remain a hard board.

"There's nothing new in here," board member Sheila Kee, a former county budget director, said of the county's short-term fiscal strategy. "There's no creativity in here. There's nothing."

At several points during Friday's board meeting, Hartman reacted sarcastically to the board members' questions and comments, suggesting they were exaggerating potential pitfalls in the plan.

"Your characterization is nothing but a silly sound bite," Hartman told Kee at one point. When board members suggested they had reason to be skeptical of Hartman's assurances, the budget director said he couldn't "follow their logic."

"Then I'm done," said Kenneth Vetter, the authority's executive director.

"I'm not done with you," responded Hartman.

"Well, I'm done with you," Vetter shot back.

"Well, I'm not done with you," Hartman said again.

The control board will meet next week to vote on the four-year plan and, from all indications, seems poised to reject it. That vote will determine whether the state-imposed board remains a hard board or returns to its status as an advisory panel.

Board members also questioned Hartman about conflicts between the borrowing estimates in the four-year plan and similar estimates in the county's capital budget.

Board member Ken Kruly said the four-year plan estimates capital spending for the next three years at about $98 million. In contrast, the capital budget recommends spending of about $225 million.

"Which number should we believe?" asked Kruly.


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