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State faulted on First Niagara move

The Niagara County Legislature criticized Empire State Development Corp. on Tuesday for assisting in the move of First Niagara Bank's corporate headquarters from Pendleton to Buffalo.

A resolution sponsored by Legislator Renae Kimble, D-Niagara Falls, took issue with the state agency's $1.3 million grant to help First Niagara move from Tonawanda Creek and South Transit roads to the Larkin Building in Buffalo.

Kimble complained that Niagara County was not given an opportunity to try to keep the bank's headquarters, or any advance information about the move.

The fast-growing bank is adding about 300 jobs in Buffalo and will keep its Pendleton center, with a work force of about 300, open as a "back office" operation.

"This is all about new jobs that should have stayed in Niagara County. We care that 300 of the best-paying jobs at First Niagara Bank are going to Buffalo," Kimble said. "The cookie that Empire State Development gave First Niagara was baked with our tax dollars, so the joke is on us."

At the suggestion of Legislator Clyde L. Burmaster, R-Ransomville, the Legislature's chairman, William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield, said he will write to Empire State Development, asking that it send officials to a Legislature meeting to face questions.

Kimble said Empire State Development ought to limit itself to trying to bring in companies from outside New York rather than funding moves from one county to another, and she called on the State Legislature to pass a law codifying that policy.

On another topic, the Legislature, trying for the third time, again passed a resolution to place the question of reducing its size on this November's ballot.

The first two resolutions, which passed unanimously, as Tuesday's did, were marred by errors in the effective date.

The voters will be asked to pass judgment Nov. 3 on reducing the size of the Legislature from 19 members to 15.

If the proposition passes, the revised district map will be drawn in 2011, after the 2010 census figures are in, and the 15-member Legislature will be elected in November 2011 and take office in January 2012.

Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, contended that State Sen. George D. Maziarz of Newfane, the county's Republican power, said on a cable TV show that Niagara Falls will lose "several seats" in the redistricting.

He said he wants details on that, asserting that the Republicans intend to cut the city delegation from five to two. "I think the citizens of Niagara County and Niagara Falls should know that now, before they vote on it."

Virtuoso also said he had heard that the GOP intends to lengthen legislators' terms to four years and increase their pay.

Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, called that "ludicrous." But Ross, after the meeting, reiterated his intention to appoint a committee after the election to study Legislature salaries, term lengths and term limits.

The Legislature also passed a resolution opposing New York State Electric & Gas Corp.'s proposed 18 percent electric rate hike and its 17.4 percent increase in the rate for natural gas. Also, a resolution was passed opposing the state's plans to make all drivers buy new license plates for $25, and to pay an extra $20 to keep their existing plate number.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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