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GRIFFIN VETOES COUNCIL PLAN TO HIKE TAXES EXTRA $3.5 MILLION FOR SCHOOLS IS ALSO CUT; LAWMAKERS PLAN TO OVERRIDE MAYOR

If Mayor Griffin has his way in the new fiscal year, city taxpayers will pay 1.2 percent more in property taxes, not 5 percent, and the schools will get only $4.1 million in extra funds, not $7.6 million more.

Griffin Friday vetoed the Council's attempt to hike taxes 5 percent and give the extra $3.5 million to the schools. He said the tax hike was too much.

In all, the mayor vetoed a total of $5.1 million in Council additions to his budget and $6.5 million in building projects.

However, the Council is expected to override many of the vetoes.

"I don't know what's going to happen with the education item, but all of the rest will be overridden," said Council Majority Leader Eugene Fahey.

Griffin's 1.2 percent tax hike is actually lower than the 3 percent increase he first proposed in a $639.7 million budget.

Since Griffin is not seeking re-election this year and this is his last budget, the mayor said it would be the "political thing to do" for him to let the schools have the extra $3.5 million the Council wants to give them.

"I cannot condone a further property tax increase on city homeowners and businesses," he said.

Griffin said it was remarkable that the Council "saw fit to make unreasonable cuts to the city budget" to give the schools more "with little or no line item review of the school board's budget."

By cutting funds for items the city has to pay for, the Council will force the city to leave 35 jobs vacant to come up with the needed money, he said.

Griffin can veto only additions to the budget, not deletions.

The Council has until June 7 to override the mayor's vetoes and come up with a final spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

The Council approved its version of the budget by a 9-4 vote. That same vote would be sufficient to override the mayor's vetoes.

But the Council vote approving an amendment raising taxes 5 percent to provide the schools the additional money was 8-5. So supporters will have to come up with another vote to override the mayor's veto of the tax hike and extra school funding.

As of Friday, no one would say they would switch their vote, although Masten Council Member David Collins said he was considering it.

North Council Member Dale Zuchlewski, sponsor of the school funding amendment, said he expected support from most of the original eight.

The amendment gave the schools an extra $2.6 million. In addition, the Council made cuts in departments to give the schools another $900,000, for a total of $3.5 million extra.

Griffin vetoed both items.

While Council leaders expect to get nine votes to override most of the vetoed items, there was speculation that some Council members would get cold feet on endorsing the full 5 percent tax hike.

Ellicott Council Member James W. Pitts said the extra school aid probably won't survive Griffin's veto because some of his colleagues may not want to appear to be supporting a tax increase.

Others speculated that the original eight votes for the school funding would be difficult to keep since some may have voted for the extra aid and tax hike expecting Griffin's veto.

Griffin also vetoed $6.5 million in capital improvement projects calling the Council's additions "pork barrel."

He spared only two: $560,000 for a new marquee at the Shea's Buffalo Center and $600,000 for the purchase of six garbage packers.

Of the nearly $6 million in Council additions, Griffin vetoed all but these items: $229,000 for grants to cultural and human service groups; $203,000 for seven building inspectors; $97,000 for community center utilities; and $50,000 for an elm leaf beetle spraying program.

The Council will have to vote again to save the following items:

$1.3 million to keep three firehouses open past Jan. 1.

$40,000 for a job for James Pavel as director of support services. Pavel is a former Griffin ally who was brought up on disciplinary charges amid speculation that he was being punished for supporting State Sen. Anthony Masiello, a Democrat who is running for mayor.

$38,000 for a police doctor.

$30,000 for the Council to hire summer workers, for a total of $210,000.

$20,000 for a collections consultant contract that Griffin said should be finished by now.

$189,663 for six audit inspector jobs. Griffin accepted six other payroll auditors.

On the summer jobs, Griffin criticized the Council for cutting their own budget by only $32,483 when the Buffalo Financial Plan Commission, a private group that gave the city a five-year fiscal plan, recommended $600,000 in cuts.

Griffin also criticized City Comptroller Joel A. Giambra for urging structural changes in city affairs but then suggesting one-time revenues to save jobs in his department.

"It is this 'not in my back yard' attitude that will make long-term changes in city government very difficult to attain," he said.

In vetoing $1.3 million for the Fire Department, Griffin insisted the city can do without three firehouses. He wants the Council to agree to close three firehouses Jan. 1, with a consultant study to decide which ones to close.

The Council members say they need to see what the consultant recommends before committing the city to closing firehouses.

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