Most of the 100 people who crowded a meeting Tuesday night at Medaille College gave City Comptroller Joel A. Giambra's plan for government consolidation a good review.
They seemed to like most of his ideas to streamline city government by contracting with Erie County for services.
The proposal, which came out of a study released earlier this month by a private research group, calls for Buffalo to retain its elected leaders and continue collecting taxes, but to transfer most of its employees and services to the county.
Consolidating services could save 9 percent to 13 percent on property taxes, Giambra said. Based on the average home sold in 1996, that could mean $175 to $250 per year for some homeowners.
But those at the meeting were not average citizens. Most were well acquainted with the plan and the many consolidation studies previously done.
Attendees included James W. Pitts, Common Council president and candidate for mayor; Kevin Gaughan, organizer of the Chautauqua Conference on Regional Government; Crystal D. Peoples, majority leader of the Erie County Legislature; George K. Arthur, former Common Council president, and many community activists.
Although those at the meeting liked the overall plan, they had plenty of criticism.
One of the biggest complaints involved turning the Police and Fire departments over to the county.
"How can we save money transfering workers to another government body and paying them the same salary and benefits?" Ms. Peoples asked. "I think some of the projected savings are a little unrealistic."
Others were worried they would not receive the same protection and service if the county handled police and fire operations.
But reducing the number of Council members and cutting their staffs was met with a round of applause. New York City and Buffalo are the only cities in the state city with full-time Council members. The report recommends reducing the number of Council members to seven from 13 and cutting their staffs, as well as that of the mayor.
"A city this size does not need a Common Council that large," Arthur Pellnat said.
Although Pellnat was all for trimming the Council, he was concerned transfering jobs to the county would hurt black city workers.
Frank B. Mesiah, vice president of the Buffalo chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, shared his concern.
"Blacks have little enough governance of their political life in the city and even less in the county with only two African-American legislators," he said. "As you strengthen the county, city residents lose their power because the majority of the county legislators respond to their white constituents. We all know that those white county legislators respond to the needs of their white suburban constituents and not the city needs."
Giambra resented what he called the racist implications of those assertions and said the city's condition was hurting everyone, both black and white.
Others complained that the scope of the plan was not broad enough to solve Buffalo's problems. Some said the plan left out the roles played by the state, the schools and the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority.
"We have to look at the state level, Stephen L. Steinberg said. "People leaving the area aren't going to other counties, but other states."
Despite criticism of many parts of the plan, some at the meeting indicated Giambra's proposal gave them hope that things soon may change in the city.
"I'm very optimistic from the response we heard this evening," Giambra said. "I'm very optimistic that something's going to happen in two years."
The next forum on consolidating services will be held at 10 a.m. Friday in the Erie County Legislative Chambers, on the seventh floor of the County Hall Annex at 25 Delaware Ave. The featured speaker will be David Rusk, author of "Cities Without Suburbs."