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The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority has received more bad budget news -- this time from New York State.

NFTA Executive Director Richard T. Swist told today's board meeting that the state's $1 billion deficit will probably translate into an operating assistance cut approaching $100,000 -- far above the anticipated $16,000.

"All local entities are taking a hit, and we have three months left to try and find a solution to the problem," he said, referring to the last quarter of the authority's fiscal year.

Facing a budget deficit for the year of more than $2 million, Swist said the authority must begin looking seriously at the problem in January. He and other transit officials have already hinted at service cutbacks and delaying a bus replacement program as ways of filling the gap.

"At one of the meetings in January, we're going to have to balance the budget somehow," Swist said.

He added, however, that he is still hopeful that the State Legislature will consider the NFTA's problems when it tackles New York City's $105 million deficit during the next session.

The failure of the new Erie County real estate transfer tax to perform as anticipated is cited by most experts as the chief cause of the NFTA's current problems. But rising fuel prices and falling ridership levels are also contributing.

Metro Executive Vice President Anthony J. Schill told commissioners today that the last fare increase and some service trimming automatically result in fewer passengers.

"If you take a bus off a route that has 20 passengers, the next one a few minutes later will not have 40 passengers," he said. "You're going to lose five."

The authority estimates its ridership level is down about 2 percent.

About the only good news the NFTA heard today was that fuel prices have moderated from a high of $1.11 to about 92 cents per gallon, compared to about 60 cents before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. As a result, Swist said the earlier deficit projection of around $400,000 now stands at around $220,000 -- as long as current fuel te assistance
prices stand.

In other action, the board:

Discussed in closed session the possibility of splitting the proposed marina development at Seaway Piers from Shooters Restaurant in an effort to reopen Shooters in the spring.

Officially approved the hiring of O'Brien-Kreitzberg Associates as the firm to manage design and construction of the $150 million expansion of Greater Buffalo International Airport over the next five years.

Authorized staff to negotiate a new contract with the Buffalo Board of Education.

Approved a $5,000 program to improve signs at the airport, including installation of new numbered signs to help passengers locate parked cars more easily.

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