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Town stuck with bill for county problems

Should the Town of Tonawanda foot the bill for services whose funding has been reduced or eliminated by Erie County?

Monday, the Town Board wrestled with two instances in which they do: a former library and a satellite office of the Department of Motor Vehicles.

A two-month extension was sought of the town's agreement with Friends of the Brighton Reading Room, the nonprofit group that operates the former library as a community resource center.

The Brighton, Greenhaven and Parkside branches in the town were closed last year by the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library to save money. In June, the town sold the Greenhaven building for $379,000 to Howlz Properties.

The Kenmore and Kenilworth branches remain open.

In March, the board agreed to pay for the Brighton Reading Room's utility bills through Dec. 31. The group is asking the town to pay half of the bills in 2007; the estimated annual utility cost is $10,000.

The extension would provide time to get accurate figures on utility bills and possibly negotiate a new agreement, town officials said.

"I am annoyed by the fact that we are using town funds in addition to the $2 million we send to the county for library purposes," Town Supervisor Ronald H. Moline said at the board's afternoon work session. "Our focus has to be . . . the best interest of the entire community."

Councilwoman Lisa M. Chimera, chairwoman of the board's Information Technology/Libraries Committee, said the Brighton group generated $44,000 from fundraisers this year and received a $10,000 grant from HSBC Bank.

When it came time to vote, Councilman John E. Donnelly cast the sole opposing vote.

"Erie County last year recommended that this . . . be closed," he said. "I believe we have to keep the best interests for all the residents of the Town of Tonawanda."

The Town Board also debated a one-year extension to an agreement with the Erie County clerk's office, which provides free space in the Parkside Village Community Building for a DMV satellite. Those services were reduced by the county's budget crisis of 2005.

"This goes along the same scenario as the library situation," said Donnelly. "Once again, this is a county activity that was brought into the Town of Tonawanda, and you're footing the bill."

Councilman Daniel J. Crangle, chairman of the board's Building Maintenance Committee, said utilities in a similar space in the building average approximately $5,000 a year.

"That would equal less than a penny a month the homeowners would be paying," he said.

Crangle said that satellite office handles an average of 125 transactions a day, with 80 percent of them involving town residents. "It helps the community," he said. "It helps the seniors."

The supervisor, who voted "no" along with Donnelly, criticized the agreement with the county during the work session.

"How do you justify subsidizing county government?" Moline asked.

e-mail: jhabuda@buffnews.com

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