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PUBLIC FORUMS TO AIR NEEDS OF SMALL BUSINESSES

Erie County lawmakers found agreement Thursday on a new initiative for small businesses.

Legislators approved plans for a series of 10 public forums across the county this summer to find ways to strengthen small-business corridors from Buffalo to the far-flung suburbs.

Some of the ideas suggested by residents and business owners at the forums may find funding in the county's budget for 2002, legislators said.

"There are some areas (of the county) where government and businesses have pulled together and improved the area. But there aren't many," said Legislature Chairman Charles M. Swanick, D-Kenmore.

The forums, which were approved 17-0, will begin in mid-July and run throughout the summer. A schedule will be released shortly, legislators said.

"A tremendous number of jobs exist in the small business strips that are adjacent to neighborhoods," said Legislator Judith P. Fisher, D-Buffalo. "When you have strong businesses, you end up with strong neighborhoods."

In other business, the Legislature:

Sent to committee a measure proposed on the floor by Legislator Michael A. Fitzpatrick, D-Buffalo, calling on the state to "immediately make available a significant percentage" of revenues from the new casinos that have been approved for Buffalo and the surrounding area. The money should be committed to construction of a new Convention Center and mass transit expansion, Fitzpatrick said.

Approved by a 17-0 vote a 2001-2002 budget for Erie Community College. The county will contribute nearly $12.8 million to ECC's total budget of $61.9 million next year, said Legislator Lynn M. Marinelli, D-Town of Tonawanda.

Unanimously approved a collective-bargaining agreement between the county and ECC's faculty. The five-year agreement, retroactive to 2000, includes 3 percent annual raises in each year of the agreement through 2005.

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