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TAX FREEZE SHOULD SERVE AS MODEL, BUSINESSMAN SAYS

Business leaders want Erie County Executive Gorski's idea of a three-year freeze on the county tax levy to spread.

Recent taxpayer revolts against school budgets reflect growing disenchantment, and school boards should pay attention to the projected county freeze, a major commercial property owner said Wednesday.

"I see it as a challenge to all local governments and school boards to do likewise," said Carl P. Paladino, who rents many offices to the county.

Gorski agreed with Paladino that it would help all property taxpayers if other local entities with taxing power focus on holding the line, and he singled out heavy school taxes.

"I would hope other municipalities would take a look at what we are doing," he said.

Trends that permitted planning a three-year freeze include a $106 million reduction in the county debt; shrinking of welfare and Medicaid; and cutting 1,400 county jobs, Gorski said.

But he emphasized that part of the foundation for a steady tax levy comes from Albany, which he condemned frequently in the past for shifting the cost of caring for the poor to local governments. "At least in 1997, the policy by the governor and State Legislature has been more than fair," Gorski said.

Gorski acknowledged that his warning of a $19 million loss in state aid this year evaporated. He said that state guarantees in connection with the Buffalo Bills' lease of Rich Stadium are pivotal to his plan. Those total about $95 million, including $63 million in stadium improvements, according to Richard M. Tobe, county commissioner of planning and environment.

For a residential property owner, the freeze could result in savings of at least several hundred dollars. For the commercial owner, it could rise into the thousands or tens of thousands.

"At times, we've even wondered whether our future was here," said John Donald Cannon, president and chief executive officer of Cannon Design. Cannon called stabilizing the levy a noteworthy achievement. Businesses hoping to expand can count on some kind of steadiness in taxes, he said.

Gorski, for the first time, acknowledged that while he thinks that he can promise a steady levy through 2000, it becomes more difficult beyond that.

"Can we do it and project the revenues in 1999?" he said. "Not as certain. Can we do it in the year 2000? Even less certain."

He said he will push it again in his budget for 1998 -- to be presented later this year.

In Hamburg, Supervisor Patrick Hoak praised Gorski for seeking the freeze when he himself is not facing an election until 1999.

"Now, schools and local municipalities have to do their work," he said. "There's additional work to be done nationally and statewide."

Hoak, a Democrat, said 54 percent of property taxes go to schools, 25 percent to the county and 21 percent to towns.

For 10 years, the tax rate in Hamburg has been lower than the rate of inflation, Hoak said. "You have to balance your budget to maintain your bond rating or you could lose millions."

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