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Still looking for a baby sitter for Friday night?

Your faith is endearing.

From Long Beach to Long Island, Fairbanks to Fort Worth, parents are finding the pool of available, trustworthy and affordable baby sitters for New Year's Eve Y2K was emptied -- or very nearly emptied -- long ago.

Worse, they're finding out that what's left over generally falls into one of two categories:

Too expensive to be worth it.

Or too unknown to risk leaving one's kids with a stranger on what could be the strangest night of recent years.

Slightly apocryphal tales of both -- of sitters secured and sitters denied -- swirled through Western New York this week.

Only after being promised anonymity would an Orchard Park mother of three admit to having promised her regular sitter $200 if the college student would stay overnight, thereby freeing the woman and her husband to stay downtown at a hotel.

"We've saved up for it all year. This was our Christmas present to ourselves, basically," she said. "But I suppose it does sound pretty awful."

One Parkside-area mother of two toddlers hung up on her regular sitter after the high school student told her matter-of-factly that she had had two other offers, "and if I could pay her more than these other two moms, then she'd come over."

Though it may be little consolation to party-eager parents, Western New York is hardly alone in its drought of sitters.

The Associated Press last week reported that some baby sitters around the nation are getting double and triple rates for the night, some as much as $100 an hour.

Price gouging, four-hour minimums, fees for additional children and wait lists (one in Utah was 30 families long) also were reported from coast to coast.

On the flip side are some local baby sitters who expected their phones to ring off the hook with pleas for help, and heard nothing.

"Either it's because they all hired their sitters by July, or no one's going out," speculated Barb LaJudice, a baby sitter at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Buffalo.

Joelle Cavaretta, administrative director for the four Quality Day Care centers, thinks it's the latter.

"I think a lot of people are just avoiding going out this year, more than usual," said Cavaretta, who plans to see a movie earlier in the day with her husband, then stay home that night with their baby and toddler.

Diane Cleesattel of Amherst says her three daughters, who range in age from 17 to 22, "have always been hired out to sit on New Year's, every year," but were not this year.

"Everyone's staying home," said Cleesattel, a secretary for the Amherst Youth Board.

None of this surprises Andrea Kadish, a guidance counselor at Orchard Park High School and organizer of the school's job board.

At this point, she said, people may be understandably reluctant to pay inflated fees and even more reluctant to hire a relative stranger who is still available to baby-sit this late in the game.

"At this point, if you're calling a high school to get a sitter, you're getting a stranger," Kadish said. "And even though they may be very qualified, I don't think people are willing to leave their kids with someone they don't know, and certainly not on this New Year's Eve.

"You want someone you know is responsible enough to handle what could come up."

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