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County budget panel hears plea for boosting tourism funding

The Erie County Legislature Budget Committee Tuesday heard numerous appeals to support a plan that would devote nearly all of the county bed tax to the Buffalo Niagara Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Representatives of other local government and nonprofit agencies also made requests for increases in county support during the public hearing on County Executive Joel A. Giambra's $1.45 billion plan.

Daniel Blachut, general manager of the Adam's Mark Hotel, was among those asking the Legislature to approve Giambra's plan to allocate about $5.2 million in bed tax revenue to the Convention and Visitors Bureau, and an additional $2.2 million in bed tax revenue to cover debt service on the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center.

Blachut said that, currently, not enough money is being used to attract convention business to Buffalo.

"Millions of dollars are being left on the table, and are being consumed by the Pittsburghs, Indianapolises and Clevelands of our world," he said. "Literally, they are eating our lunch. We are being out-funded, and outperformed. They are the winners; we are the losers."

Catherine F. Schweitzer, executive director of the Baird Foundation, who also supported Giambra's plan for the bulk of the bed tax, agreed that it is critical to attract more tourists to the region.

"Visitors are ideal constituents. They do not use schools or want new roads and sewers built, or ask for medical or social services, except in an emergency. . . . They fill hotel rooms, eat meals in restaurants, and even go shopping, all [of] which results in bed tax and sales tax payments to the county," Schweitzer said.

Meanwhile, George Oliver, president of the Association of Boards of Trustees for the Contract Libraries of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, joined others in appealing to lawmakers to restore $2.4 million that was cut from the county library budget two years ago.

"It would help to increase the number of hours per week that the libraries are able to remain open and it would also increase the amount of materials in use by patrons," Oliver said.

Nonprofit groups, such as Vive La Casa, a refugee shelter, as well as Meals on Wheels, also sought increases in county aid.

Officials of Hispanics United of Buffalo, which provides services to the local Hispanic community, requested $120,000 to provide more services called vital by Willie Olivencia Jr., housing and community service director for the agency.

The additional services would include an employment training program for adults with limited English skills and job readiness training and job placement.

e-mail: hmcneil@buffnews.com

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