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DON'T DELAY MERGERS, FIRE COMMISSIONER SAYS

Plans to downsize the Fire Department would be delayed and the City of Buffalo would feel more fiscal pain if the Common Council stalls firehouse consolidations, the acting fire commissioner warned Tuesday.

His remarks followed a Council decision to delay action on a land deal that is needed before two North Buffalo firehouses can be closed and merged at a new site on Hertel Avenue.

Some Black Rock and Riverside residents fear that the move would leave neighborhoods with inadequate fire protection. After hearing from several residents, Council members surprised Masiello administration officials by sending the item back to committee.

The issue was expected to be discussed today when the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority holds its monthly meeting. Board Chairman Thomas E. Baker has called the Fire Department changes key to the city's budget-balancing efforts. The changes would save millions by cutting about 135 firefighters through attrition and likely layoffs, closing companies and building some new firehouses in more central locations.

Interim Fire Commissioner Michael L. D'Orazio left the Council meeting disappointed.

"This certainly could have a negative impact on the city's four-year fiscal plan, because we need to get these new (firehouses) built next year," he said.

City Budget Director Michael A. Seaman agreed that any further delays would knock Buffalo's already fragile fiscal plan out of whack.

But North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr., who represents the neighborhoods that would be affected by the firehouse relocation, contended that the Masiello administration has only itself to blame. He faulted the mayor for failing to get input from neighborhood advisory groups that were set up to help chart long-term plans.

"Had the administration been working with (citizens) from Day One, there would be no delay," Golombek said.

At issue is Mayor Anthony M. Masiello's push for a land swap with Benderson Development. Benderson would sell the city a vacant parcel at 860 Hertel Ave. Buffalo would pay Benderson $85,000 and trade a city parking lot at 575 Delaware Ave. The plan calls for building a new firehouse at the Hertel site by next fall and moving two companies to the location -- Engine 36 at Great Arrow and Elmwood avenues, and Ladder 12 at Grant and Amherst streets.

Golombek said that most residents are not opposed to relocating the firehouses but that they do not think the new site east of Elmwood is the best spot. He urged the city to reconsider other nearby parcels.

In other Council action, lawmakers sent to committee a bill that calls for dissolving the city Water Board and restoring the Common Council's power to set water rates. The issue follows the board's decision to raise water rates for the fourth time since July 2003.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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