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FUNDS SIT IN THE BANK AS COUNTY, NFTA HAGGLE OVER TRANSFER TAX

Erie County has $1.5 million in real estate transfer tax proceeds -- about $2 million less than expected for the year -- sitting in a bank account awaiting a final contract with the NFTA.

County Clerk David J. Swarts confirmed that the county collected $439,200 in transfer tax revenues during the month of November, putting the total amount collected since June 1 at $1.54 million.

Swarts said November's revenues are the largest monthly collection to date, up from October's total of $422,559.

"November was a good month for them, and December should be even better," Swarts predicted, noting that many home sellers look to finalize their sales by the end of the calendar year.

"The real question is what will happen in January and February when sales traditionally slow down," he added.

To date, the transfer tax has been somewhat of a disappointment to the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority. The tax originally was predicted to bring in nearly $6 million in its first year of collection, so it is down by about $2 million on a full-year basis.

NFTA officials have acknowledged the expected shortfall and are now projecting collection of just $3.6 million by March 31, the end of the agency's fiscal year.

It has been nearly six months since the County Legislature approved a funding plan to allocate transfer tax revenues and a portion of the sales tax to local mass transit operations, which were halted for two days by money woes last spring.

But NFTA officials have yet to receive a penny of the transfer tax proceeds because they have not signed a formal contract with the county.

Transit officials do not agree with the schedule of sales tax payments proposed by the county. The agency is to receive one-sixteenth of 1 percent of sales tax collections starting Jan. 1.

The county is offering three payments of varying amounts to total $3.5 million in 1991. The NFTA would prefer four equal payments of $875,000 each.

NFTA Executive Director Richard Swist said Wednesday it boils down to a "$100,000 difference of opinion."

"If we have to wait four or five months for a payment, we'll have to maintain our cash flow by dipping into interest-earning accounts. We'll end up losing about $100,000 over the course of the year," Swist said.

Looking at it from the other side, the county claims it would lose $100,000 in interest if it has to adhere to a payment schedule that's out of sync with the state's sales tax payments.

"We've got the same problem. Somebody's going to lose interest earnings, but we interpreted the county's funding plan to include four equal payments, not three," Swist said.

County Executive Gorski acknowledges the sticking point in contract talks.

"There's a difference of views on the scheduling, but I think we can reach a mutually agreeable solution very soon," he said.

He also noted that local sales tax receipts continue to surpass expectations. Gorski said growth in sales tax will provide an extra $500,000 to the NFTA, which was not envisioned when the funding plan was penned last spring.

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