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Philanthropists and foundations were the focus Wednesday for an ongoing campaign to introduce regionalism to local governments in Western New York.

Supporters of regionalism were quick to emphasize that the idea is not synonymous with metro government.

"Regionalism does not erase borders or collapse local governments," John Sheffer, chairman of the University at Buffalo Institute for Local Governance and Regional Growth, told more than 75 people attending the Western New York Grantmakers Association conference in the Hyatt Regency Buffalo.

"(Regionalism) is cooperation and collaboration of local government delivery of services in as efficient a manner as possible -- not one big government making all the decisions for everyone else," Sheffer added.

That is not what Buffalo City Comptroller Joel Giambra had in mind when he first started beating the drums for metro government in Erie County.

Now, however, Giambra said, while he still favors metro government, "I am a realist and I have listened to other people and I am prepared to discuss other ways."

Several speakers complained about high taxes at both the state and local levels and the overwhelming number of state regulations that inhibit economic growth.

Panel members outlined steps necessary for regionalism to become a reality: Involve town and village governments in the planning process.

"Many of them are frightened, skeptical and defensive when it comes to the idea of regionalism," City of Tonawanda Mayor Alice A. Roth said.

Make the process inclusive, "crossing all racial, social and cultural borders," said Henry Taylor Jr., director of the Center for Urban Studies at UB. "Quit cataloging the failures of the past and catalog the possible successes of the future," said Luke Rich, regional director of Empire State Development, who pointed out that "last year, Western New York had 98 business and industry expansions and relocations."

"Stay away from emotional issues like police department consolidations," Mayor Masiello said. "There are many issues that are non-controversial that we could do together, particularly if we have support from the private sector like those of you here today."

Robert M. Bennett, president of the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County and facilitator for the session, offered these suggestions:

Focus on economics.

Think regionally and act locally.

Small steps now lead to bigger steps later.

Attitudes about city and suburbs must change.

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