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Legislators support 8% sales tax

As expected, the Niagara County Legislature voted, 17-1, Tuesday to keep the sales tax in the county at 8 percent through November 2009.

Only Legislator Danny W. Sklarski, D-Town of Niagara, said "no" to extending the sales tax.

"I've always voted 'no,' " Sklarski said. "All the businesses and residents I talked to were against raising the tax."

Sklarski said he also voted against the measure in 2003 and in 2005.

"Medicaid has to be reformed, not capped. Gov. [Eliot L.] Spitzer is for reform, and I agree," Sklarski said after the meeting.

Once it wins state approval, the County Legislature will have to take another vote to actually impose the tax, currently scheduled to expire Nov. 30. Unlike other counties that have no restrictions, Niagara County is required to spend all of the additional money on its share of Medicaid expenses.

The "Medicaid penny," as some legislators call it, was imposed in March 2003 and brought in $23.4 million last year. But Budget Director Daniel R. Huntington has said Niagara County will spend an estimated $40 million on Medicaid this year -- the largest item in the county budget.

Legislator John D. Ceretto, R-Lewiston, said, "Nobody likes to raise taxes either way, but the alternative is to raise property taxes."

Legislator Kyle R. Andrews, D-Wilson, was absent from the meeting.

County Manager Gregory D. Lewis said the legislators simply needed to approve the tax. "The 1 percent is absolutely mandatory . . . We're really talking about $24 million."

In another matter, the Legislature voted, 18-0, to approve the Niagara River Greenway Plan, which would connect Buffalo and Youngstown through a series of trails and parks.

The State Power Authority has agreed to pay an estimated $1 billion in money and discount electricity over the next 50 years in order to be allowed to continue operating here.

The Niagara Power Coalition, made up of Niagara County, the City of Niagara Falls, the towns of Lewiston and Niagara and the Niagara Falls, Niagara-Wheatfield and Lewiston-Porter school districts, will split up 25 megawatts of hydropower and $8 million in funds per year.

The money includes $5 million a year to be spent as the recipients wish and $3 million for recreational projects pertinent to the Niagara River Greenway Plan.

The County Legislature also voted, 18-0, to support the Medicaid County Protection Act of 2007. The measure states that because New York has the most expensive Medicaid program in the nation, and because per person spending is also the highest, the members are asking representatives in Congress to tie into the Medicaid County Protection Act of 2007.

That act would prohibit states from passing along the costs of Medicaid to county government.

e-mail: pkowalik@buffnews.com

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