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AUDIT OF RATE HIKE BY ADELPHIA URGED

The Buffalo Common Council wants the state Public Service Commission to conduct an audit of Adelphia's recently announced increase in cable rates.

In a unanimous vote Tuesday, lawmakers asked the PSC to review the cable television franchise's decision to raise rates by about 10 percent, a move that would increase the monthly bills of most subscribers by about $3.50 a month.

Council President James W. Pitts, the resolution's sponsor, said that if an audit determines that the increase is unjustified, it would give the city a tool to try to rescind the increase and possibly secure rebates for customers.

"It's true that in this deregulated environment, the PSC does not have the authority to approve or disapprove cable rates," Pitts said. "But it has the authority to audit and determine whether rate hikes are warranted."

Adelphia officials could not be reached to comment, but in a public hearing last week, General Manager Thomas Haywood said the rate increase is needed to help offset increased costs for power, capital expenditures and labor.

In that hearing, Pitts accused Adelphia of basing part of its impending rate increase on costs anticipated for its $100 million waterfront development project, which has been delayed for at least a year.

Pitts said a PSC staff member has expressed a willingness to provide the city technical expertise in evaluating the rate increase.

In other business Tuesday, lawmakers called on public works officials to provide a detailed report that outlines minority hiring and promotion policies in the Streets Division. Council Member at Large Charley H. Fisher III said he has received information that the division has no African-American supervisors, foremen or dispatchers.

Fisher also contended that more than 175 African-American employees are seasonal workers, making them ineligible for benefits such as health insurance and life insurance.

"They're being worked like mules for $6.92 an hour, sometimes staying in these seasonal positions for six, seven, even 10 years," he said.

The Council also unanimously approved an ordinance amendment that will require all restaurants to be subjected to more thorough reviews by the city Planning Board before they can create semi-permanent sidewalk cafes.

The amendment, sponsored by Delaware Council Member Marc A. Coppola and Lovejoy Council Member Richard Fontana, is the byproduct of a dispute that recently erupted in North Buffalo. Kostas, a popular Greek restaurant on Hertel Avenue, won city approval to build a patio enclosure that extends more than 11 feet onto the sidewalk. Some questioned how the project was approved when other restaurant projects had been denied.

Coppola said the ordinance amendment will close a loophole that allows for a less stringent review policy for "semi-permanent" structures. While the Kostas enclosure is designed to be permanent, it doesn't have a deep enough foundation to be classified as such.

On another issue, lawmakers delayed for at least two weeks action on the county's request that the city surrender another piece of its historic radial street plan.

The county is seeking an easement that would enable it to close a small stretch of Niagara Street to create a pedestrian plaza for the new Family Court Building. The project is under construction at Niagara and West Eagle streets.

Council members said they want more time to review claims by some business leaders that the action will hinder efforts to make downtown more motorist-friendly.

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