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Objections stall 'capital budget' approval

Objections from a few legislators Monday blocked adoption of Niagara County's budget for major projects and purchases.

The "capital budget" is separate from the 2006 general budget, which the Legislature is to adopt tonight, and does not affect next year's tax levy, County Manager Gregory D. Lewis said.

The capital budget totals $10.85 million worth of projects and purchases, all of which would be funded by borrowing. The county has to provide the money, but state and federal reimbursements for some of the projects reduces the net county cost to $4.39 million, plus interest, which is estimated at $527,186 a year.

The interest and principal would not begin to be repaid until 2007, which is why it doesn't affect the 2006 budget. That's also why there is no firm deadline to adopt it, and the Legislature's Public Works Committee tabled the capital budget Monday for at least a month.

Budget Director Daniel R. Huntington said the useful life of the projects ranges from five to 30 years, but the bonding will last 16 years.

Legislator Glenn S. Aronow, R-Lockport, objected to bonding several items, including computer hardware and software and some new vehicles, which will have to be replaced in about five years.

Taking one five-year item as an example, Aronow said, "We'll be on our fourth optical imaging machine and still paying for our first. I'm not sure that's prudent. . . . I'm not sold on a piece of equipment or a computer program that has a shelf life of five years and paying for it over 16 years."

"These are small budget items that should be in each department's individual budget," said Legislator Peter E. Smolinski, R-North Tonawanda.

Lewis said it's too late for the Legislature to do that for 2006. "We would have to raise the property tax high enough to cover these costs," he said.

Smolinski zeroed in on a $1 million proposal, which includes no state or federal aid, to reconstruct the Rohr Street Bridge in Bergholz. It has the largest net county cost of any of the 24 items in the capital budget, and Smolinski said he suspects the project on a side street in a Town of Wheatfield hamlet would have little impact on the public.

"Can we close it down? How many people does it impact?" he asked.

Public Works Commissioner Kevin P. O'Brien said a traffic count would be needed; he said that can't be done during the winter.

Huntington said the capital budget was reduced by deducting $1.5 million to buy new federally mandated electronic voting machines; it now appears state aid will cover the tab.

Also, a $50,000 renovation of the Drug Task Force office on Davison Road was deducted.

"The Sheriff's Department is looking to lease space elsewhere," Huntington said. He acknowledged the cost of a lease would come out of the general budget and said money would have to be found to pay for it later.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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