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Town supervisors lobby for federal stimulus money to avoid cuts

Municipal governments across Erie County facing significant revenue losses due to the coronavirus pandemic continue to push for the federal government to grant them direct financial help.

Without assistance through a stimulus package, some local town supervisors say, some services may have to be cut in order to balance their budgets.

"We are unable to do this alone," Lancaster Supervisor Ronald Ruffino said.

The largest impact on many towns will be the loss of sales tax revenue, Ruffino said during a virtual news conference Tuesday.

But municipalities are also losing out on court fees and other types of revenue as the effects of the pandemic linger.

Lancaster officials' estimates for how much sales tax revenue the town may lose have ranged from 50% early on to up to 80% under the most recent calculations, Ruffino said.

To try to alleviate some of the financial pressure, the town is approving only purchases for capital expenditures where such spending is "absolutely necessary" due to safety issues, he said. The town hasn't hired any seasonal employees, and probably will not, he said.

Spending on services for youth and seniors, as well as recreation programs, will be hard to keep at budgeted levels without stimulus funding, Ruffino said.

"We see this being a very difficult role to maintain in 2020 if we are not granted federal assistance through a stimulus package," he said.

So far, aid to municipal governments has been left out of federal stimulus packages, which have provided money for businesses and hospitals.

A report by the state Division of Budget calls for New York to close its own projected $13.3 billion budget shortfall by cutting $10.1 billion in spending, with $8.2 billion cuts coming in a reduction of "aid to localities," which includes support for local governments.

Grand Island already has furloughed a number of employees and is pushing back spending on some recreation programs, Supervisor John C. Whitney said.

"This is just going to hurt us and impact us in ways that we are not going to be able to recover from," Whitney said.

The Town of Evans is looking at a projected $1.5 million budget gap due to projected losses in state aid and sales tax revenue, Supervisor Mary K. Hosler said.

The town has furloughed all of its part-time employees but hasn't made any cuts to its full-time labor force yet, Hosler said. Evans' marina also hasn't opened, which further cuts into the municipality's revenue, she said.

Hosler said she believes stimulus for municipalities has become a "bargaining chip" between Democrats and Republicans in Washington.

"To me, it's irresponsible," she said.

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