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SPENDING CAP IS SOUGHT FOR COUNTY BUDGET

County Executive Joel A. Giambra should hold his administration to a spending cap for capital projects in Erie County, especially now that the nation faces an economic downturn, according to the County Legislature.

The Legislature is sending a message to Giambra, calling on him to hold down capital spending in the 2002 budget he will soon send to the Legislature for approval. A vote on the measure passed, 12.977 to 4.023, under weighted voting.

"Now, more than ever, we need to be very cautious and fiscally prudent," said Legislator Lynn M. Marinelli, D-Town of Tonawanda, who initiated legislation calling for the spending cap.

The cap should be approximately $30 million -- or 1.5 percent of the county's debt limit -- in 2002, legislators said.

But some legislators objected that the spending cap would tie Giambra's hands in preparing a budget, something they said they were unwilling to do.

"Where we part ways is on telling the county executive he should come out and announce a cap on spending," said Minority Leader John W. Greenan, R-West Seneca, who generally leads support for Giambra in the Legislature. "I have some concerns about that."

Greenan said he doesn't want to impose "an artificial number" on the county executive. "Budget time is when this really should be done," he said.

But those who supported the measure said that capital spending can easily get out of control in the county if some type of spending cap is not on the table.

"It's fair and it's prudent for us to start looking at how we spend our capital dollars," said Majority Leader Crystal D. Peoples, D-Buffalo.

A total of 118 requests for capital spending in 2002 have been received from 11 different county departments, said Marinelli, who sits on an advisory panel that handles the requests.

Taken together, the requests total more than $150 million in capital spending, she said. Not all will be approved and included in the new budget.

"One by one, they all make good sense. But we can't do them all," said Marinelli. "What are our wants? What are our needs? Where are our priorities?"

Marinelli said the County Legislature is not absolutely binding Giambra to hold to the cap, but is strongly recommending that he establish one in 2002 and hold to it.

e-mail: cvogel@buffnews.com

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