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EVERYBODY'S COLUMN
LETTERS FROM OUR READERS

State, local leaders must work together to solve fiscal crisis

Put on your thinking caps and lace up your courage, state and county legislators. This is no time for the blame game. The danger is real. Solutions to the county budget crisis need to be hammered out by the people's representatives. Nobody wants to shut down the library system or skeletonize other vital public services.

It will take the best efforts of state and county officials to arrive at an equitable compromise, probably including Medicaid reform, a sales tax and property tax increase and other solutions to avert a draconian meltdown of essential public services. And they need to be long-term solutions to avoid a recurrence of our present situation.

It would be unthinkable to shut down our public libraries, one of this region's most needed and used services. Put partisanship on the back burner and pull together to arrive at fair answers to our fiscal dilemma. Anything less would be political folly.

Martin Lewin

Town of Tonawanda

If drastic cuts are imposed more people will leave region

When I first moved to Buffalo from Washington, D.C., my husband and I were the subjects of a News article about people who had lived in bigger cities and decided they preferred to live in Western New York. We were not the only people interviewed; Charity Vogel was marking a trend. Buffalo is home to a whole bastion of people who have lived in Washington, New York City or Los Angeles and, in the end, chosen Buffalo.

We love it for its friendliness, its strong values and its game willingness to keep on trying whatever the odds. We love it for the shops in the Elmwood Village, for walks along Bidwell Parkway and for good strong coffee in so many homegrown coffee shops. We love it for the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, the theater, the bars in Allentown and the Christmas trees at the Hyatt.

County Executive Joel Giambra's scorched earth budget betrays me and all others like me. I love Buffalo, I have made my life here. But I won't stay in a city with no libraries, no snow plows, no arts funding of any kind. This breaks my heart, and I am not the only one. I would gladly pay a penny more on the dollar if it means I can stay in the city I have chosen as my home. The County Legislature cannot abandon its constituents now.

Rachel Fending

Hamburg

Soldiers fighting in Iraq deserve better treatment

Frequent stories have described families sending body armor and other needed equipment to soldiers stationed in Iraq. Now we learn that the families of seriously wounded combatants are provided funds for only one short visit to where the wounded are being treated. The type of wound, loss of one or more limbs, severe psychological impairment or the length of treatment and rehab are not considered. The costs of additional visits must be paid by the families.

Very few of the seriously wounded National Guard or Reserve soldiers are from the top 40 percent of income earners. Many enlisted to supplement their income. Their families can ill-afford to provide the needed on-site support over the long haul without jeopardizing their jobs and mortgages. Their choice is to stay home or rely on the charity and compassion of others.

President Bush has repeatedly stated that the country is at war. That should mean that those doing the fighting come first. A small fraction of the tax cut given to the wealthy would provide sufficient funds to allow the affected families to restructure their lifes in a dignified manner. The current policies are reminiscent of the treatment afforded our Vietnam veterans. Does anybody care?

Hans G. Reif

Buffalo

History will not look kindly on Bush's impetuous decision

The Bush administration's ill-founded, impetuous decision to invade Iraq may well result in the current government being judged as one of the worst in our history. Why the unilateral rush to war? Iraq was clearly no immediate military threat. Saddam had no direct link with 9/1 1; the administration knew intelligence data were questionable. We certainly needed time for effective postwar planning. Why not pursue humanitarian diplomatic efforts for just another year?

Afghanistan could have been stabilized (the Taliban and war lords are back). We would still have been viewed positively by potential allies, the Arab world and the United Nations. How many U.S. soldiers would not have been killed or maimed? How many thousands of innocent lives, including many children, might have been saved? Or are such casualties meaningless? We are already considering how to exit gracefully from Iraq, likely leaving a bitterly divided and devastated nation, doomed to civil war and governed by an anti-American theocracy. What will a "decisive" and "compassionate" president say to parents and relatives of soldiers -- who sacrificed so much -- if we end up with that?

If we fail to achieve such unrealistic objectives as transforming Iraq into a democracy, Bush and his advisers, who arbitrarily crafted their own flawed historical legacy, are in serious danger of being thoroughly discredited.

Richard A. Siggelkow

Retired Colonel, U.S. Army Reserve

Ellicottville

Countless people will suffer if public libraries are closed

I find it shocking and disturbing that County Executive Joel Giambra could even entertain the thought of closing a resource like the excellent Buffalo and Erie County Public Library System. Perhaps he would benefit from reading "Aunt Chip and the Great Triple Creek Dam Affair" by Patricia Polacco or any of author Gary Paulsen's autobiographical works, which clearly emphasize the importance of the public library in deciding the direction his life would take.

The most frightening aspect of this proposed closing is that it will further a two-tier society of haves and have-nots. Parents who can afford to buy books, magazines and computers for their children will do so. Those who cannot afford to do so will be forced to go without the access to information and entertainment offered by public libraries. As Aunt Chip says, "there will be consequences," and those consequences will be ones of deprivation for the many public library users in our area.

Diane Balodis

Orchard Park

Library may have to impose user fee, close some branches

Thinking about the financial problems of Erie County and the devastating effect that closing our public libraries would have on all the people in this area led me to the conclusion that the library system should do what the Buffalo Zoo and the Buffalo Museum of Science have already done -- implement a user fee or membership plan. If patrons had to pay annual dues to use the library's services and/or a fee to borrow items, the library system could keep and use that money.

I believe that a deal could be worked out between the County Legislature and the library board that would involve the establishment of some kind of membership fee, along with a limited amount of county funding. Libraries might also have to limit their hours of operation and possibly even close some branches, but these options would be better than not having public libraries at all.

These are very tough decisions. Not everyone will want to pay for services that have been "free," but I cannot imagine living without public libraries. We must do what we can to keep them open in our community.

Ruth Maciejewski

Alden

State can no longer ignore need for Medicaid reform

Wow! At least Tennessee is waking up. That state is dissolving its expanded Medicaid system and dropping 430,000 people from the Medicaid rolls. Hopefully, they will all move to Erie County and I can pay for them, too! What's another one- or two-cent raise in the sales tax? It's abominable! That's what it is.

We pay our legislators to fix these problems, yet their solution is to raise the cost of living for the property owners of Erie County, to the point where people who can afford to live here say that's enough, and move out. If this county were a corporation, the CEO would either have fixed the financial mess by now or the corporation would have been out of business. Medicaid and welfare reform are needed now. Great people make tough decisions; greater people make the right ones.

Jeff Nagel

East Aurora

Taxes are a necessary evil if we want services to continue

County Executive Joel Giambra tells us that the county is broke and the culprit is not ourselves but state Medicaid mandates, even though Medicaid costs have increased annually for as far back as the eye can see and should have been anticipated.

Enough of the blame game. Now is the time for Giambra and county legislators to openly admit their mistake in cutting property taxes and to reinstate them. Following this courageous resolve to correct our own financial problems, I suggest that they begin immediately to lobby the New York State Legislature to assume more of the Medicaid burden by increasing the state income tax -- a more fair tax -- as painful as that might be.

Finally, I urge all elected officials to conduct a real education campaign to explain to the public that we must pay for services we want our government to provide. To do less is dishonest, and I believe that we have been dishonest for too long at all levels of government in facing that hard truth.

Janet Massaro

Amherst

When children misbehave
they need to be punished

I had to write after reading the comment that Buffalo school officials want to combat school violence by taking steps to "help disruptive students and not punish them." When I went to school, if I had been disruptive, the teacher would have sent a letter to my parents and they would have punished me, which helped me learn to behave.

By not making kids responsible for their behavior, we are raising self-entitled monsters who do as they feel and face no consequences for their actions. This way of thinking is absurd and is destroying this country.

These disruptive students need to be punished. How can you punish a kid nowadays, though? You aren't allowed to spank them or hurt their feelings or tell them they are wrong, because that will hurt their self-esteem. In fact, you can't punish them without risk of some parent complaining to the School Board that you are picking on their kid. Yes, children do wrong, and they need to be punished when they misbehave.

Renee Bagwell

Niagara Falls

Schools may need to pursue
alternative discipline methods

I am very sympathetic with Buffalo school teachers' concerns for their safety. However, I am concerned about the way in which school violence is described. In describing recent incidents at Lafayette High, the teachers, school officials and BTF President Phil Rumore all appeared to suggest that the cause of the problem of school violence resided entirely with the students involved in incidents or in disciplinary measures that are inadequately punitive and exclusionary.

While students who act out aggressively are often troubled youths, research suggests that the "answers" sought by school officials regarding student violence must also include an examination of school environmental factors and problems in teacher, administrator and student relationships. Research also suggests that punitive responses to student misbehaviors are associated with worsening behavior, not its deterrence.

I agree that some students would benefit from counseling, but perhaps schools need a sort of counseling as well. Schools' over-reliance on punitive and exclusionary discipline is a simplistic solution that often creates oppositional "anti-heroes" of students, making teachers, other students and schools less safe. Effective alternative approaches to traditional disciplinary practices should be tried in schools with severe student misconduct.

Mark Cameron

Assistant Professor, University

at Buffalo School of Social Work