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Big money raising the stakes in small town race

Small town. Big money.

Those are the dynamics at work in Sardinia, where Tuesday's primary voters will pick the candidates for Republican, Conservative and Independence lines in November's general election.

The highest profile race is for supervisor. Incumbent Bill Hare decided not to run for re-election. Endorsed Republican Matt Mumbach, a Town Board member, is facing Kathleen Balus, the president of Pioneer Credit Recovery and a major contributor to U.S. Rep. Thomas Reynolds and Republican causes, and two-term Councilwoman Carla Fuller.

Balus has brought a taste of big-time politics into the election with multiple mailings, and with Robert J. Lichtenthal Jr., one of Erie County's main Republican political operatives, helping her campaign. She is the race's wild card, in part because of the money she's injected into the campaign in Erie County's second-smallest town.

Balus' opponents are quick to point out that Balus, her family and her company gave at least $70,000 in political donations in 2003-2004, including $60,000 to the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Balus said some of the money for her campaign is from a fund-raiser, and that "if I have used some of my own money to run my campaign, I will tell you that I am attached to no one." She described Lichtenthal as an old friend and said he was helping her campaign with things such as navigating the petition procedure.

Balus founded Pioneer Credit Recovery, a collection agency that she sold in 2001 to Sallie Mae, the government-founded loan agency that completed its privatization in 2004. Sallie Mae paid $38 million for the company.

When it comes to issues in the race, none is hotter than the potential expansion of the Waste Management landfill. If a proposed new zoning plan for the town is passed, it would make it possible for Waste Management to expand its landfill, providing it passes through a review process. "I didn't start the landfill," Mumbach said. "But I thought it was high time we started reaping some benefits from having the landfill in town, and we have done that."

Mumbach, who said he supports the rezoning plan, said the town has received more than $2.1 million from the landfill since a host community agreement was signed.

Fuller also said she supports the rezoning and working with Waste Management. The town's deal with the garbage conglomerate has allowed it to do away with general and highway taxes and, said Fuller, it may be able eliminate fire district charges.

"We really need to make use of the landfill and get everything we can," said Fuller. "Our seniors are terrified, hearing about 45 percent county tax increases. And if the landfill were to close, they'd have even more."

Balus said she's not against the landfill, as her opponents have painted her, but that she figures there are limited choices. "We have the ability to finally close the landfill and close that history in our town, neighbor against neighbor, and that kind of thing," Balus said, "or we have the opportunity to really sit down and talk about an agreement that the town and the people can live with."

Tuesday's other primaries include Republican and Independence primaries for Town Board, where Douglas "Buster" Morrell and Heather Phelps are the endorsed Republican candidates and Shawn Haley and Robert Kaiser are the challengers and Sardinia First candidates.
e-mail: eploetz@buffnews.com1

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