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LENIHAN SAYS TALKS ON NFTA ARE 'CANDID' WON'T LABEL REACTION TO FISCAL PLAN

Discussions on NFTA funding were "productive, fruitful, very candid," the Erie County Legislature's majority leader said Wednesday after returning from an Albany meeting with Cuomo administration representatives.

But Leonard R. Lenihan, D-Town of Tonawanda, declined to describe state reaction to his five-year funding strategy for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.

His proposal would commit the county and the state to continuing their current assistance levels through 1995, with the county providing $8.2 million and the state $9 million, and would provide an additional $6 million from new county taxes on rental cars and long-term vehicle leases.

The Lenihan plan also would reportedly give the state control of the NFTA's valuable waterfront property in order to get the Cuomo administration to drop its insistence that it would not extend emergency state funding for the NFTA.

"It was a working session and no conclusions or decisions were made," Lenihan said. "A whole range of options were discussed, including all the new proposals."

Lenihan, along with Legislator Michael A. Fitzpatrick, D-Buffalo, and Richard M. Tobe, county commissioner of environment and planning, met for more than two hours with Susan Kupferman, the governor's transportation aide, and a state Department of Transportation financial analyst.

"We're working more closely together," Lenihan said, "... to a good solid discussion of each entity's interest. I sense a lot of progress is being made."

"I think they want to look over and discuss some of our concerns," he added. "I think we will renew our talks."

The Lenihan plan would be structured as a five-year contract among the county, state and NFTA, with a number of conditions built in to safeguard the public dollars flowing to the agency.

"We don't want to run the NFTA," Lenihan said. "What we're interested in is protection of new county dollars. How does the county keep control over money that flows to an authority over which it has no control? That's been very much a sticking point in this whole debate."

A contract, Lenihan said, would let County Comptroller Alfreda Slominski monitor how the county money is used.

On the NFTA's waterfront property, Lenihan questioned repeated calls for the authority to sell the valuable land and use the assets to focus on running public transit.

"The NFTA needs to be more flexible in thinking about use of that land," he said, but if the county and state are going to provide more revenue, "the community in return for that deserves public access to that land."

If the county contributes to the NFTA, he said the transit agency should not be able to sell that land to private developers for a profit.

"I favor that land being developed and made part of the overall plan of the Horizons Waterfront Commission," Lenihan said. "I think the overwhelming community consensus is that land should be used for the community."

He added that "any comprehensive plan we come up with regarding the future of the NFTA will require approval of all parties," including the state and county legislatures, NFTA and the governor.

Both Legislator David M. Manz, D-Buffalo, and Minority Leader Mary Lou Rath, R-Williamsville, were generally supportive of Lenihan's proposals.

"I do favor his inclusion of the state as a continued partner in NFTA funding," Mrs. Rath said.

"This is the best plan I've heard so far," said Manz. "If we can get the audit, watch how they spend our money and keep the system running without hitting the general public with a lot of new taxes, this could be it."

News Staff Reporter Sharon Linstedt contributed to this story.

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