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List for challenging hiring freeze expanded

The state-appointed control board that monitors Erie County's finances agreed Thursday to give a broader group of top county officials the opportunity to challenge a board-imposed hiring freeze.

Now officials who are elected countywide and the heads of Erie Community College and other entities can seek, on a case-by-case basis, the board's permission to fill a job. Previously, only County Executive Joel A. Giambra could do so, a situation that may have violated the County Charter.

"We wanted to make sure that we matched up with the revised charter," Kenneth Vetter, executive director of the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority, said after Thursday's meeting in the Central Library auditorium.

Also Thursday, control board members approved a $1.28 million budget for their own operations that cut $141,600 and one position from last year's plan.

Following the formal session, board members took pains to encourage Giambra and other county administrators to generate new creative and cost-efficient ways to govern.

"If you don't get the right kind of proposals, you can't approve them," Sheila K. Kee, a board member and former county budget director, said after the meeting.

It has been eight weeks since the board imposed a hiring freeze for county government, a move criticized by Giambra, the unions representing county workers and others.

The board previously said that only Giambra could appeal to overturn the freeze.

But other top county officials argued that they should not have to go through Giambra to request permission to fill a job.

Under the amended policy, the elected county sheriff, district attorney, clerk and comptroller can seek board permission to hire within their departments.

And the ECC president, the library system's executive director, the chairman of the County Legislature and the commissioners of the county Board of Elections will have the same authority.

Giambra has said he supports this policy shift, and officials in those agencies said the move gives them needed flexibility.

"Anything that streamlines the process is helpful to the Sheriff's Department," Brian Doyle, the sheriff's chief of administration, said after the meeting.

Also Thursday, the board approved a $1.28 million budget for next year that cuts its own spending by 10 percent from the $1.43 million the board spent in 2006, Vetter said.

The budget trims the board's payroll from eight to seven positions by eliminating a special legal counsel position, he added.

The board had come under past criticism for its spending on consultants and travel for members. The board's budget is covered by sales tax revenue.

The board took no substantial action on Erie County's 2007 budget, a fiscal proposal that board Chairman Anthony Baynes has argued doesn't contain enough job cuts.

The board did agree to send the county budget -- and a key four-year county spending plan -- to the board's finance committee for review once those documents are received.

e-mail: swatson@buffnews.com

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