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Control board wants Giambra to veto pay hikes

Control board members say Christmas came early to the Erie County Legislature Thursday.

The Legislature's approval of pay raises for about 25 of its district staff members prompted a board request that County Executive Joel A. Giambra veto the increases.

The raises, which passed by a 9-5 vote, come as the county is eliminating jobs and raising taxes and is still in what many view as a fiscal crisis.

"They're like Santa Claus," said control board member Joseph E. Goodell. "We should give those nine legislators red hats with white fur, and they can all go 'ho ho ho.' "

Anthony Baynes, chairman of the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority, said the cost-of-living raises benefit the Legislature's patronage hires while thousands of other county employees go without raises.

He also suggested many of the Legislature's nine new members have gone back on their promises of reform, and he called on Giambra to reject the last-minute raises.

"It's his duty to veto this," said Baynes. "We had a lot of legislators who ran as reformers. Obviously, they don't believe in it any more."

The raises were part of the revised budget developed by lawmakers but, in the 11th hour, they deleted the raises from the final budget passed last week.

"We're in a fiscal crisis," Legislator Thomas A. Loughran, D-Amherst, said Thursday. "I don't want to deny anyone a pay raise, but this is not the time to do this."

Loughran said the raises were taken out of the budget at his request, only to be put back as part of a "technical change" Thursday.

The raises affect a small number of county employees -- about 25 to 30 district staff members hired by individual legislators -- and the cost is estimated at about $40,000 a year.

For some, it's not the cost of the raises that matters, but the perception it creates among taxpayers.

None of the nine lawmakers who voted for the raises spoke about it publicly Thursday, but in the past, legislative leaders have suggested the raises would resolve a pay equity problem among staff.

Of the five legislators who voted against the raises, three are Democrats -- Loughran, Cynthia E. Locklear of West Seneca and Kathy Konst of Lancaster -- and two are Republicans -- John C. Mills of Orchard Park and Michael H. Ranzenhofer of Amherst.

e-mail: pfairbanks@buffnews.com

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