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Funds OK'd for trails; other matters leave lawmakers divided

Well into winter, this year's state money is on its way to the array of Erie County snowmobile clubs that maintain sledding trails.

The money from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is channeled through county government.

The County Legislature on Thursday approved a plan to distribute $176,630 to: Colden Trail Riders, Eden Trail Blazers, Grand Island Snowmobile Club, Hamburg Snowmobile Club, Holland Sno-Rascals, Marilla Sno-Mob, Northern Erie Snowseekers, Pioneer Sno-Surfers, Southern Tier Snowdrifters and the Western New York Snowmobile Club of Boston.

While that vote was unanimous, the Legislature on Thursday remained divided on other matters that were then sent back to committees for more discussion.

For example, County Executive Chris Collins had asked lawmakers to help him address a problem in his 2011 budget: It left too few employees in the Health Department's Toxicology Laboratory, jeopardizing its accreditation from the American Board of Forensic Toxicology and the state Commission on Forensic Science and potentially diminishing the lab's credibility in criminal investigations and prosecutions.

Collins asked the Legislature to rearrange the Health Department budget to restore jobs for a chief county toxicologist and an assistant toxicologist, as well as an associate public health engineer who works to protect drinking water, and a special assistant to the commissioner of health, who provides general administrative oversight. The moves would return about $400,000 to the county payroll, including fringe benefits.

All seemed fine until it was revealed that the employee who would return to the restored job of special assistant to the health commissioner was being parked temporarily in a secretarial job at the Department of Environment and Planning. So Legislator Lynn M. Marinelli, D-Town of Tonawanda, attached an amendment deleting the secretarial post because, she reasoned, it should no longer be needed. Collins has been trying to shed the budget of unnecessary jobs and this seemed a prime candidate, she said.

With Marinelli's amendment, Legislature Chairwoman Barbara Miller-Williams returned the matter to the Health and Human Services Committee for more examination.

Collins and a core group of Legislature Democrats, which includes Marinelli, are still at odds over the 2011 budget. He has largely ignored their cuts in spending and implemented a tax rate that does not figure in most of their reductions, totaling about $7.9 million. The matter is in State Supreme Court.

The Legislature on Thursday also failed to act on competing statements expressing support for a suggestion -- recently revived by Collins -- to let New York's counties select the optional Medicaid services they offer within their borders. The Republicans penned a statement. So did a core group of six Democrats. Both are likely to be discussed in a committee.

e-mail: mspina@buffnews.com

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