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Olean budget debate going down to the wire

The Olean Common Council on Thursday selected the most conservative of five updated budget proposals presented Thursday by Mayor David J. Carucci for consideration but then rejected the $13,981,091 plan.

Instead, Council members called for substantial cost-cutting measures and announced plans to meet daily until the Sunday deadline for passage of the 2007-08 budget.

The proposal was supported by a $147.52 per $1,000 tax rate, or a 19.8 percent increase, and included a $300,000 contingency fund line item for spending that would be decided by the Council.

Otherwise, it was identical to Carucci's other four plans provided Thursday. The total appropriations in those versions ranged as high as $14,281,091, and contingency spending rose to $600,000, with the tax rate increase exceeding 26 percent in that option.

A summary of this round of cuts shows about $400,000 trimmed from the original $14.7 million plan, also rejected because it contained a $600,000 contingency fund line item and would have required a tax boost of about 39 percent. The new proposals also factor in additional $43,000 in parks and user fee revenues and a $144,000 increase in state aid that is expected in the coming year.

Three park maintenance jobs that were on the table in previous versions of the proposal were removed, but five other jobs still hang in the balance:

* the city attorney's former secretary, who was shared by the Council as a clerk and is paid a salary of about $33,500 plus benefits.

* Two police dispatchers, for a savings of about $86,300.

* One firefighter, for a savings of almost $49,000.

* One garage mechanic, for a savings of about $44,500.

The proposal would also eliminate senior, youth and parks programs, a move that has brought protest from some officials and members of the public but has brought offers of private support from the Olean Youth Hockey Association and donations from former Olean residents who now live elsewhere.

Before the vote, Council President Ray Wangelin opened the session up to comments from about 30 city employees and residents in the audience. Several said the new proposals are as fiscally unsound as former budgets that were faulted by the state comptroller's recent audit, and some called for a control board and urged the aldermen not to adopt the budget.

Kurt Ireland, a police captain on the city's force for 30 years, said the city attorney had no expertise to negotiate the recent police contract, which eliminates raises for the next two years.

"Don't be buffaloed by those guys [the mayor and attorney]," he told the aldermen.

After the vote, Carucci said he will refuse to change anything in his proposal until the Council provides him a list of cuts they desire.
But Wangelin waved a four-page list he sent up to Carucci last week as a summary of their suggestions over the past two months.

Carucci responded with negative answers to two-thirds of the suggestions Thursday.

"This is my budget. 'Take it or leave it, he says. I wonder if he does that with the Fire Department contract negotiations," Wangelin said of Carucci. "[Today] we will show up at 5 p.m., and we've given him all we can give him. I want to see some cuts -- not pencils and paper clips."

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