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LOCAL NEWS BRIEFS

Financial health improved but still vulnerable

BATAVIA -- The city's financial health is much improved but still vulnerable. That was the gist of a presentation Monday at a City Council conference session.

Where in August 2005, Moody's Investment Services had downgraded the city's bond rating from Baa to Baa2 because of five years of operating losses, this month the rating remained the same but boasted four consecutive years of surpluses.

All fund balances had increased, and interfund loans of $5.9 million had been repaid.

However, there are concerns. They include a loss of tax receipts from last year, increased contributions of 43 percent to the state retirement fund next year and an unresolved union contract with police. Future budget challenges include slow tax base growth and a sluggish housing market.

Moody's bottom line is that "financial planning and budgeting are working and successful, services are being provided and improvements are being made." However, the report continues: "The city is still in a vulnerable financial position with a sluggish economy, slower real estate market and loss of a big employer."

Meanwhile, an Audit Advisory Committee has recommended an "aggressive funding of existing reserves." These include Capital Equipment ($250,000), employee retirement benefits ($125,000), retirement contributions ($100,000) and public facilities construction and maintenance, sidewalk reconstruction and health insurance benefits ($75,000 each).

The 2011-2012 initiative update also gives a quarterly review of the city's Strategic and Business Plan covering issues ranging from neighborhood development to public safety and economic progress.

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Museum of Science gets $50,000 from foundation

The Patrick P. Lee Foundation presented $50,000 Monday to the Buffalo Museum of Science to support the installation of the new Health Sciences Studio.

The interactive gallery is scheduled to open in February 2012 and will focus on health, wellness and strides in science made by area researchers.

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Tax-incentive program targets vacant buildings

LOCKPORT -- A tax-incentive program aimed at helping fill vacant commercial buildings along South Transit Road is in effect, Town Attorney Daniel E. Seaman said Monday.

The town Industrial Development Agency board last week passed an "enhancement zone" program that allows new stores, whether newly constructed or moving into existing buildings, to apply for exemptions from paying sales taxes on materials and equipment used to build, renovate or furnish their businesses.

The businesses would have to file applications, and the IDA board would have the only vote on whether such an exemption would be granted.

"It's not an automatic," Seaman noted.

The zone extends 500 feet from the center line of South Transit Road in both directions.