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BUDGET BETWEEN SEEING RED, BEING GREEN

Joel A. Giambra wants more people to view Erie County through green-colored glasses.

For the next five weeks, the county executive's preferred color is that of money, which he has emblazoned on a county budget he would rather the Legislature adopt by Dec. 7.

Giambra even wore a green tie Friday when he told reporters that he, sadly, must submit a foreboding "red budget" that would suck the life out of many services because of a lack of tax income to feed them.

Unless county and state lawmakers add one cent per dollar to the sales tax, which appears unlikely at this point, Giambra sees the red budget becoming law since programs mandated by the state and federal governments force the county to spend beyond its means.

But is green really better for county residents willing to remain in the nation's highest-taxed state?

Budget books and other details obtained by The Buffalo News show the contrast between the $1 billion green life and the $940 million red life in terms of taxes and fees, layoffs and quality-of-life services.
Taxes
Red: Both property taxes and sales taxes remain the same. The county's property tax on a $100,000 home would stay around $460, the sales tax at 4.25 cents on the dollar on top of the state tax of 4 cents.

Green: The green budget hits taxpayers harder. It would require them to pay another penny with every dollar of goods purchased, for a total of 9.25 percent. The increase would raise an estimated $109 million in the first year and $125 million annually after that.

To raise additional revenue next year, officials want to impose a new tax to register a car, generating $2.7 million, and to charge more to play a round of golf, raising about $200,000 more, budget records show. A "wireless surcharge" of 35 cents on each cell phone bill would go into effect, adding $1.5 million. Some other counties charge it, too, to raise money for enhanced-911 systems.
Employees
Red: Layoffs would be the rule. Giambra estimates 3,000 full- and part-time employees would lose their jobs, as would 3,000 others who work for outside agencies that rely on county money. Most of the Legislature's staff and the county executive's staff would go. Large numbers of prosecutors, investigators, clerks and the staff needed to run grand juries would get pink slips. The Sheriff's Department would be all but gutted, losing many road patrol deputies, narcotics officers, jail personnel and helicopter staff.

Green: About 200 jobs funded this year would be deleted, including a few in the Sheriff's Department, the district attorney's office, an assistant director in the Commission on the Status of Women, some probation officers and a supervisor. Three of 25 jobs in the county executive's suite would be eliminated. For the most part, departments would receive the amount they presented a few weeks ago when asked to trim back requests for next year.

"I have already told some of my own staff that it's time to start working on their resumes," Giambra said Friday.
Libraries
Red: The system's budget of $29 million would fall to about $6 million next year, initially thought to be enough to maintain only the Central Library in Buffalo. But Director Michael C. Mahaney said that, after figuring the cost of unemployment compensation for laid-off workers, paying them for unusued leave and mothballing buildings, only enough money would remain to close all doors.

Green: The system would have to cut outlays to $27.4 million, but the branches would remain open.

Parks
Red: The care of parks outside Buffalo would slow considerably, Giambra indicated Friday, since funding would fall from nearly $6 million this year to about $950,000. Parks superintendents would remain, but they would lose their staffs. In the Forestry Division, only the county forester would continue.

Care of Buffalo parks would continue under an arrangement, completed this year, in which the city pays the county to care for its parks, rinks, golf courses and playgrounds.

Green: Four parks jobs in this year's budget would be deleted, and the department would have to find other ways to cut spending to $5.2 million. Under both the red and green budgets, the department also would ramp up a program to sell firewood, aiming to pull in $126,500 more than this year.
Capital expenditures
Red: Contradictions abound in the capital budget, which the county executive must submit for any physical project or acquisition of $50,000 or more.

While the red budget would close branch libraries, the red capital budget contains $7 million for books and equipment for the new Merriweather Library at East Utica Street and Jefferson Avenue.

While the red budget would empty the Rath County Office Building of many employees, its capital budget authorizes $250,000 to modernize the structure's passenger and freight elevators.

While the red budget idles deputies, its capital budget has $1.5 million for a police training center, the second phase of the public safety campus linked with the Erie Community College City Campus.

Giambra and his aides note that many capital projects remain because they attract state or federal contributions or generate money in their own right, as is the case with the police training facility, he says. Also, since capital budgets are six-year plans, money has been borrowed for many of the items.

Green: The capital budget is identical to that of the red budget: projects totaling $80.5 million, with the largest share -- $17.6 million -- going for bridges and highways.

e-mail: mspina@buffnews.com

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