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Albany preparing to offer aid to storm-damaged communities

ALBANY - Preliminary talks already have begun about a package of financial aid to help Buffalo communities deal with the costs of the severe lake-effect storm.

Money could be considered as soon as next month if the state Legislature returns for a special session or in January when the 2015 regular session begins, according to sources in Albany.

The state in recent years has provided financial assistance to other areas hit by natural disasters, sharply increasing the odds that some level of state aid will flow to Western New York. Additionally, the state is looking at about a $5 billion in surplus this year,

Preliminary discussions have involved the governor’s office and top levels of the Legislature: Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

“The governor reached out to legislative leaders on the need for an emergency appropriation and they agreed,’’ said Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi.

Assemblyman Sean Ryan, a Buffalo Democrat, said he has spoken to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Silver and came away optimistic the state is going to offer financial assistance to cover whatever the federal government does not provide.

Ryan reminded officials that the state in December 2011 provided aid to communities in the Adirondacks and other areas hit by a hurricane and tropical storm. He said Buffalo area localities are also dealing with a spike in storm spending at a time when they are living under a property tax cap program that he said has helped to sharply decrease many reserve funds. Now communities like Lackawanna and Blasdell are hiring private contractors to remove snow with money already budgeted for other programs in their current fiscal years.

“This money can’t wait,’’ Ryan said of the need for funding before the end of the year.

In the state Senate, a source said it is too premature to discuss any specifics given that the region was still dealing with a second round of snow on Thursday.

Sen. Patrick Gallivan, a Republican from Elma, one of the many hard-hit communities, confirmed that Skelos, a Long Island Republican, has already personally reached out to the Cuomo administration to discuss an aid package.

“I don’t see how, given the assistance the state has provided with so many natural disasters, any legislator could oppose those Western New York communities that have suffered at the hands of this storm,’’ Gallivan said.

Western New York localities are quickly churning through their own funds for winter storm-related efforts and were told by Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz to keep track of every penny spent – including even pizza for volunteers – for upcoming applications for federal financial aid.