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COUNTY PANEL OKS NFTA FUNDING PACT FULL LEGISLATURE SET TO VOTE JULY 5

The contract formalizing Erie County's fiscal relationship with the NFTA appears headed for unanimous approval by county lawmakers at their next session.

The Legislature's Transportation Committee gave bipartisan support to the 16-page agreement Thursday, which paves the way for its acceptance by the full body at its July 5 session.

The legislators made just one change to the proposed pact, amending a section that deals with potential extension of the Metro Rail line. The lawmakers want the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority to notify them immediately if line extension is being discussed, rather than 30 days before a final decision is made.

Amherst Republican William A. Pauly said the county deserves to know about such a significant decision long before the NFTA Board of Commissioners makes a final determination.

"It seems to me we should be notified the moment they begin discussion of extending that line anywhere. There are enormous cost implications," Pauly said.

County Attorney Patrick H. NeMoyer said because the NFTA commissioners are required by law to discuss such matters in public at their sessions, the Legislature would have access to that information. He said, however, the NFTA would likely agree to inform the lawmakers directly if the Legislature wanted that clause in the funding contract.

The proposed pact -- part of the solution to the transit shutdown earlier this year -- received some unexpected praise from Minority Leader Mary Lou Rath, R-Williamsville, who voted against the funding plan the contract governs.

"This does what I think we wanted all along," she said, adding that it ensures "every dollar we're spending on transit is a dollar well spent."

Majority Leader Leonard R. Lenihan, D-Town of Tonawanda, who is credited with the idea of controlling the county's fiscal contributions to the NFTA via a contract, also praised the final draft.

"We simply won't be throwing money at the NFTA without regard to how it's spent," he said. He also said the pact will mandate minimum service levels to prevent future shutdowns, such as April's two-day transit gap.

"They can never, ever again shut down their operations. Service can't be interrupted without breaking this contract," he said.

The Legislature and the NFTA had been aiming to have the contract approved by both sides before July 10, the day the authority is set to get its first check from the month-old Real Estate Transfer tax.

The first allotment is expected to total just a few thousand dollars, but will grow to more than $500,000 a month by September, when the real estate closing cycle is in sync with fee collections. The new surcharge is expected to raise more than $6 million for transit operations over a full calendar year.

The contract also spells out the time sequence for collection of the one-sixteenth of one cent sales tax dedicated to the NFTA starting January 1, 1991, and the increase to one-quarter of one cent as of April 1, 1993.

Through the contract, the NFTA also agrees to allow the county comptroller's office to review various financial records and to open its books to an upcoming management and performance audit.

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