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PANEL TO HELP SET PRIORITIES FOR COUNTY FUNDING
WILL HELP DETERMINE RESIDENTS' SENTIMENTS ON PROJECTS DESERVING SUPPORT

Faced with demands for millions of new dollars from the public purse, the leader of the County Legislature aims to find out what residents consider regional assets that require support.

On Friday, Legislature Chairman Charles M. Swanick named John Bis, associate dean of the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning, to head a panel to design an Erie County Regional Asset Fund.

Swanick, D-Kenmore, said the Legislature faces a $3 million demand to fund this year's county share of the Buffalo Bills lease. Looming in the near future are requests for a new convention center and a 21st-century zoo, each in the $100 million range.

"There are probably five more requests sitting out there," Swanick said. "I get a letter just about once a week from some group wanting significant money. We're under a three-year property tax freeze, and in our budget plans, we don't have $100 million for anybody."

Swanick said the Legislature has no guidelines for deciding whom or how to fund in massive projects. Bis' panel will have a three-fold task:

Determine what taxpayers consider regional assets.

Provide rules and guidelines for seeking county funds.

Find ways to provide funding.

The county now helps cultural agencies cover shortfalls through appropriations recommended by the Cultural Resources Advisory Board. That panel is not involved with Rich Stadium or a convention center. It does not tackle massive capital projects.

"These projects -- and more -- are coming our way," Swanick said. "On one side, taxpayers are concerned about taxes. In reality, they want property tax cuts. The flip side is business groups and community groups seeking funds that far exceed our financial capabilities at this time."

Swanick has worked closely with Majority Leader Crystal D. Peoples and Legislator Judith Fisher, both Buffalo Democrats.

"We have to determine what regional assets are and how to support them," Ms. Peoples said. "The Buffalo Bills and waterfront development are regional assets. Any move by the zoo we would look at."

Mrs. Fisher said funding would go only to regional facilities and activities that are open and accessible to all county residents and tourists.

The Bis committee is expected to organize next month and report back to the Legislature over the summer.

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