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JUST HOW BIG IS FISCAL WATCHDOG'S BITE?

Financial control boards are rare in New York State, so it is not surprising that the public would have concerns about creating one in Buffalo. Here are answers to some commonly asked questions:

Q: What is a financial control board?

A: A control board is a state-created entity that has broad powers over a municipality's finances. A law passed by the State Legislature and signed by Gov. George E. Pataki would be needed to create a control board in Buffalo.

Q: What are the powers of such a control board?

A: A control board's powers depend on the law enacted in Albany. In the past, control boards have had the ability to veto municipal budgets, impose wage freezes, approve contracts and certify annual revenue estimates.

Q: What about union contracts?

A: Again, it depends on the law enacted, but most control boards do not have the power to abolish existing labor contracts. They do, however, have the ability to freeze wages, as well as negotiate and approve new union contracts.

Q: What about services?

A: In most cases, policy decisions are left to the city's governing bodies, in this case Mayor Anthony M. Masiello and the Common Council. The control board would have the power to decide whether the budget approved by the mayor and Council is balanced and, if it isn't, would have the option of vetoing that plan.

Q: How common are control boards?

A: Not common at all. Only three cities -- New York City, Troy and Yonkers -- have been subject to financial control boards.

Q: Why are control boards so rare?

A: State lawmakers view them as a last resort. The Legislature also has a deep-rooted tradition of abiding by home rule or local authority.

Q: How long do control boards remain in charge?

A: It depends on the extent of the city's problems and how long it takes to stabilize its finances. In Yonkers, the board was in control for a total of 18 years. In Troy, it was four years.

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