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NFTA OKs budget that holds line on fares, fees

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority on Monday approved a 2006-07 budget that does not increase fares or airport fees.

The $162.1 million budget, which goes into effect Saturday, is up 8.9 percent over the current 2005-06 fiscal year budget. But fares and fees will hold steady because of an anticipated 5 percent increase in passengers at Buffalo Niagara International Airport, a 1 percent increase in Metro Bus and Rail ridership and an 11.1 percent rise in state operating assistance, said NFTA Executive Director Lawrence M. Meckler.

"We're anticipating another strong year where we can continue to provide a high level of service to the community and move ahead on all our initiatives," Meckler said.

The budget, which received unanimous approval, includes a net increase of six full-time staffers, primarily airport employees, and 21 new, part-time positions, the majority of which are Metro Bus and Rail workers. The total NFTA work force will number 1,481 full-time employees and 67 part-timers.

While holding the line on fares, the transportation agency is expanding services on three of its bus routes. Starting this week, Route 14/Abbott will be extended to Southgate Plaza during off-peak/weekday hours. Route 36/Hamburg will now serve the Buffalo Lakeside Commerce Park seven days a week; and the Route 51/Military North route will be extended to the Niagara University campus.

The new fiscal year also will mark the first time all non-union NFTA staffers, who include the authority's top managers and executives, will be required to pay a portion of their health insurance cost. The employees will contribute either 10 percent of the cost of the coverage or 1.5 percent of their salaries, whichever is lower, toward their health premiums.

The health coverage policy change is expected to trim about $120,000 off insurance costs for those 118 workers.

In other action, the NFTA board of commissioners approved a revised contract to sell the NFTA Boat Harbor and Gallagher Beach to the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Under the restructured contract, the NFTA still will receive $4 million for the outer harbor properties, but $1 million of it will be set aside to cover any unforeseen environmental issues at the sites.

Those funds are in addition to $1 million the state is placing with the National Historic Trust to cover remediation expenses.

Meckler said he expects the revamped contract should speed conclusion of the property transaction, a deal that was first announced in February 2004.

"This still needs to be approved by the attorney general and comptroller, but this is the final deal and it should be complete soon," Meckler said.

NFTA crews will install docks and get the facilities ready for the upcoming recreational season if the deal is not consummated in the next few weeks.

The board also gave one-year contract extensions to Fieri of WNY to run the Boat Harbor Restaurant and Olson Brothers Marine to run the Boat Harbor Marine Sales Shop and boat storage facility adjacent to the Bell Slip.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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