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As Erie County and its cities, towns and villages grapple with various proposals to address our financial problems, I am appreciative of the leadership shown by the Greater Buffalo Working Committee and 11-member commission working on a plan to merge the governments of Buffalo and Erie County.

After decades of economic struggle and financial stress, I believe it is in all our interests, as Western New Yorkers, to examine our region's governments, analyze their effectiveness and prescribe the best form of government that will deliver services to the citizens of our region in the most cost-effective, efficient manner.

As mayor, I am eager to explore every possibility and welcome your suggestions on how we can improve city government. I have instructed my staff to cooperate fully with the commission and am available to meet with its members as needed throughout this process.

In order to ensure that this exercise will bear fruit, it is vital that the commission not limit itself to the question of what form the government should take, however. Equally important are questions such as:

What services should be provided?

Who will provide them?

How will we pay for them?

These fundamental questions must be asked, and the answers must address the structural nature of our region's fiscal problems before I will support a new form of government for our region.

Regionalism for regionalism's sake should not be our goal. As mayor, I firmly believe that we need to make fundamental changes in the way we do the people's business, but change must result in real progress. The 300,000 residents of this city deserve our best work.

True regionalism will result in a cure for the urban core's long-standing ailments. As David Rusk and other sprawl experts have stated on countless occasions, "You cannot have a healthy region without a healthy core."

The question is, how will consolidating Buffalo and Erie County solve the financial problems plaguing the city and enable enhanced service delivery? I must have a detailed, satisfactory answer to this fundamental question in order to lend my support to implementing the recommendations of the commission.

I will support a new form of government only if it solves the fundamental financial problems facing Buffalo. I hope the commission will continually ask itself: "How does this new form of government help the urban core?" Because that is the question I will be asking and the litmus test I will be using to decide whether or not to support the commission's recommendations.

Again, I want to thank the commission for its leadership. This coming together of the private and not-for-profit sectors on behalf of the people of our region represents Western New York's best hope for building a better Buffalo and a stronger Erie County.

Anthony Masiello is the mayor of Buffalo.

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