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LOT BOUGHT FOR $1 MILLION LESS THAN EXPECTED

An agreement has been reached to sell the city-owned parking lot behind the Convention & Civic Center to the Seneca Nation of Indians for $2 million -- $1 million less than Mayor Irene J. Elia anticipated as revenue in her 2003 budget.

Elia said the state's intent to take the 5.25-acre lot by eminent domain for the Seneca casino diminished the city's negotiating position.

"If we had the luxury of negotiating at arm's length for whatever time it took to bring the casino to our point of view, we might be able to command a higher price," Elia said Thursday.

Elia said the loss of the $1 million in revenue from her 2003 budget could be offset by adding $2.74 million in anticipated revenues from the city's parking ramps due to casino traffic. Elia already had budgeted $1.3 million in ramp revenue in her initial spending plan, which was presented before federal approval of the casino and the Seneca elections, both of which have advanced the probability the casino will open by Jan. 1, she said.

Elia said the Senecas have tried to negotiate some type of lease agreements for the ramp.

"I promise I will not give up any more of our assets," said Elia, noting the ramps are not in the footprint of the area to be acquired by the Senecas.

The city still is without agreement on how much it will receive for police, fire and other services it will provide the casino because the Senecas' compact with the state defers payment to the city until 2004 -- a year after the city has to begin providing the services. Elia said negotiations between the Senecas and the state to provide the city with an advanced payment to cover out-of-pocket expenses are ongoing.

Of the $1.7 million the city expects beyond the $3 million already budgeted, Elia asked the Council to set aside $300,000 for operation of the new convention center the state plans in the former Falls Street Faire building; $100,000 to cover legal fees and appraisal expenses incurred to this point; $12,500 for block clubs; and $5,000 for the Niagara Beautification Commission. Elia also asked that some amount be used toward a fund balance.

Elia said the parking revenues "can legitimately be anticipated as reasonable net revenue from the ramps."

However, if the revenues are not realized, a budget shortfall would exist.

Elia made the announcement as the Council was preparing to begin amending her $105.6 million budget for 2003. In light of the increase in anticipated revenue, the Council decided to take the weekend to look more closely at how restoration of police and fire positions might be affected, leaving anxious employees to endure another uncertain weekend and opening the Council to further lobbying.

The Council restored two snowplow and truck drivers and an auto mechanic in the Public Works Department and enough operators to run the water and sewage treatment plants at what Council members considered a safe level. Elia's proposed layoffs would have left operators in both plants working alone overnight. In discussions over the past few weeks, Council members said they considered the reductions unsafe.

e-mail: jscelsa@buffnews.com