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COST-CUTTING PLAN SLASHES 225 JOBS

More than 225 additional city employees would be laid off, water rates and the garbage user fee would increase by at least 20 percent, and all city recreation programs would close under a cost-cutting plan that Buffalo officials are reviewing.

If the city fails to receive millions of dollars in additional state aid, offices that serve senior citizens, young people and substance abusers also would have to be closed, budget officials warned.

"There wouldn't be a city-run facility open in this town except for police stations and firehouses," Budget Director James B. Milroy said Thursday. "But I don't know if the political will exists on the Common Council to make these kind of cuts."

Milroy outlined the administration's latest alternatives for slashing costs at a Common Council Budget Committee meeting Thursday. While officials stressed that the cost-cutting plan is in "the discussion stages" at this point, they added the city has "very limited options" for solving the crisis without a major increase in state assistance.

Milroy said the only other options would involve cuts in police and fire services, areas that virtually all city officials have said should remain off-limits.

If the latest round of layoffs were to occur as outlined Thursday, they would affect more than 80 parks employees, 66 workers in the recreation division, more than 40 individuals who run substance abuse programs for the city and the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, and 20 employees who administer programs for senior citizens.

Several other departments also would lose staffing. For example, the plan would close the Office of Telecommunications, eliminate winter security staffing at Erie Basin Marina and cut forestry jobs.

If the new round of cuts were to occur, they would likely take effect by the end of the year.

The list of possible cuts also assumes that there would no raises for any employees this fiscal year, including police and fire personnel. The list would trim about $15 million in expenses, still leaving the city with a $7.3 million hole.

The city already has announced that 75 employees will be laid off Nov. 2. It also has frozen all spending and authorized the rotating shutdown of up to two fire companies each day to reduce overtime costs. The city's only two indoor pools also will be closed a couple of days each week. The early round of cuts trimmed about $8.5 million.

During the committee meeting, Council President James W. Pitts criticized state and federal officials for ignoring the plight of many cities following the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

"Gov. Pataki's priorities are all screwed up," Pitts said during an emotional speech.

State aid is a major revenue source for the city and its school district, accounting for about 60 percent of their combined revenues.

But even if the state comes through with additional aid to Buffalo, the city will face severe problems in the coming year, officials warned Thursday. Comptroller Anthony R. Nanula, who met with city lawmakers, said the biggest challenge involves reforming fiscal policies that have allowed the city's reserves to deteriorate.

"We're operating on fumes from a cash-reserve perspective," Nanula said. "We don't have a cushion, and that concerns credit-rating agencies."

Vincent J. LoVallo, chief of staff to Mayor Anthony M. Masiello, agreed that the city's long-term fiscal outlook is bleak unless structural changes are made. He announced Thursday that the mayor's office hopes to propose sweeping changes in the next budget, which will be unveiled in May.

"We're running a government that has been the same for 100 years, if not longer. We need to put a new government together," LoVallo told the Council. "Every department has to be looked at and rebuilt from the ground up. We may have to throw out the budget book as we know it."

Police and fire services are the city's two most expensive departments, costing about $157 million to operate this fiscal year -- $20 million more than the city's property tax levy.

City officials also met privately with state auditors late Thursday. Several staffers from the state comptroller's office have been reviewing city finances to try to determine the severity of Buffalo's cash flow problem.

Sources left Thursday's meeting indicating that the report will document a "serious cash shortage" facing Buffalo. A series of meetings will be held over the next few days to finalize the figures. City officials are hoping the state comptroller's study will help strengthen Buffalo's case for obtaining $22 million in additional state aid.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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