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Prospect of deficit for '08 transforms into possibility of $5 million surplus

It looks as if Erie County ended 2008 with a surplus rather than a deficit.

County Comptroller Mark C. Poloncarz warned weeks ago that with declining sales tax revenues, the government might have to dip into reserves to the tune of about $5 million to balance out the year.

But as the accountants figured the books to close out 2008, they counted up savings in various departments and learned that there might, in fact, be a surplus, of about $5 million to $7 million, officials said Thursday.

The year-end results won't be official for several more weeks, after they are confirmed by an outside auditor.

County Executive Chris Collins did not want to end his first year in office with a deficit, even a small one and even with a budget authored by his predecessor, Joel A. Giambra.

At the same time, Erie County will not be trimming back its highest-in-the-state sales tax anytime soon. The County Legislature on Thursday voted unanimously to keep the sales tax at 8.75 percent through November 2011.

The Legislature took one of the three procedural votes needed as it communicates with state leaders in Albany to continue levying the county sales tax.

Lawmakers are asking for the right to keep the 0.75 percent of the sales tax they added to address the budget crisis of 2004-05. That 0.75 percent generates about $100 million a year.

e-mail: mspina@buffnews.com

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