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STAFF-REDUCTION PLAN FOR AGENCY IS REJECTED BY HUD OFFICIALS

The Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority's staff-reduction plan has been rejected by federal housing officials.

The plan was prompted by a 1996 HUD audit that determined that the authority's job force was nearly double its need. However, the plan submitted last month by the authority was lacking on several grounds, according to Joan K. Spilman, public housing officer for HUD's Buffalo Region Office.

The Housing Authority had planned to cut up to 169 jobs from its payroll -- about a third of its work force -- over the next five years. Eighty-six of those jobs were scheduled to be eliminated by Oct. 1, with half of them achieved through layoffs and the other half from the elimination of vacant positions.

But in a recent letter to the housing authority's executive director, Sharon M. West, Spilman said the authority's job-reduction plan lacked sufficient input from housing authority workers and tenants.

That was an issue raised by local 264, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents housing authority workers. Local 264 President John M. Scardino on Wednesday praised HUD's decision.

"It's encouraging because (the housing authority's) plan did not include input from the union, and that was my goal all along," Scardino said.

However, housing authority officials Wednesday questioned how the authority could be expected to negotiate with the union when it balked at the idea of pursuing layoffs to reduce staffing.

"How could the union be expected to collaborate with us when their position is that they are totally against us getting rid of any of their people?" said the housing authority's assistant executive director, Thomas A. Williams.

Authority management and union officials both expressed concern about the high number of cuts demanded by HUD.

"We have a big problem with cutting 169 jobs," Scardino said. "There's a lot of concern that there will not be enough workers to get the services out to tenants if we lose that many people."

If housing authority staffing is really as bloated as HUD says, then HUD bears at least some responsibility, Thomas said. Through the years, he said, HUD has required the authority to hire additional people to speed up its modernization program in the late 1980s and reduce vacancies in Buffalo's public housing projects.

"It took 15 years to get to this point, and we can't be expected to make these reductions overnight," Williams said. "I really don't see how we could function efficiently with 169 less people."

HUD has requested that the housing authority submit a new job-reduction plan by Feb. 3.

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