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Mayor sets up showdown with Council

It's going to be harder to blame the Olean Common Council when the city's purse is empty.

Mayor David Carucci, in his State of the City address, charged the Council members with being "financially uneducated and unwilling to learn how finances are processed."

Aldermen will have a chance to reply Tuesday with an up-or-down committee vote on creating two new standing committees that will deal directly with those issues -- a new finance committee and an employee position vacancy committee.

Council President Ray Wangelin, Ward 3, said the creation of a Finance Committee is long overdue and will review auditor's monthly and bimonthly reports and balance sheets for each department's budget -- items that the lawmakers have had a difficult time obtaining in the past and were forced to do without when voting on annual budgets and other spending.

He added that the Employee Position Vacancy Committee will not have much power over hiring and promotions, because those decisions are within the mayor's power.

"We don't have control over employees, but we do have control over the dollar, and so we are going to use our ability to hold things up," Wangelin said.

The city, faced with deficits totaling about $7 million and difficulties in tracking accounts without financial reports that spanned almost two years, must find a way to replace capital funds that were diverted by the former city auditor to meet cash flow needs without notice to the Council members.

Officials have borrowed against future revenues and are now faced with finding funds to make badly needed repairs to the East Olean sewer infrastructure and meet a state-imposed timetable to end illegal discharges of sewer plant overflows into the Allegheny River.

Wangelin said Sunday that aldermen have reviewed the bills before each vote, but other information was not available. He said he has recognized a need for the Finance Committee for some time, but as the events of the past year began to unfold surrounding the city's fiscal status, he knew the time had come to do what is necessary to control spending in 2007.

Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. the City Operations Committee will debate his proposed amendment to the Code of Ordinances to add the two committees and to increase the Public Safety Committee from five to seven members. If approved, the measure will be sent to the Common Council for action, perhaps as soon as Jan. 24.

Wangelin said it might then become harder for the Carucci administration to get approval for projects unless it can be shown that funding is available.

He said that includes the fire and police contract negotiations that soon will be getting under way, with Carucci and DeRose in charge of hammering out an agreement with a professional union negotiator that has been hired to represent the employees.

"Any other year they would ask us to approve a contract and that night we would approve it," Wangelin said. "Now I feel that if the contract is not in the best interest of people, it will not pass."

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