The Erie County Legislature, in a bipartisan vote Thursday, turned thumbs down on a proposal that would create a special taxing district for the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library.
The 8-2 vote, though nonbinding, was still considered a blow to library officials who are in the midst of garnering local support to have the initiative appear on the ballot in this November’s general election.
“We had hoped that together, the library and the Legislature would take a forward step and provide a sustainable solution the library system’s decades-long, roller-coaster funding,” library officials said in a prepared statement after the Legislature’s vote.
The creation of a special taxing district would allow the library to levy its own taxes, similar to suburban school districts. In addition, county residents would have authority to vote on the library’s budget proposal and elect members to the library board of trustees.
Under the plan, responsibility for the library’s annual funding would be taken out of the hands of the county executive and the Legislature and would, instead, be decided by the public. County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz has been adamant in his opposition to the library board’s proposal.
While two of the 10 legislators present Thursday voted “no” on the resolution opposing a special taxing district, none categorically expressed support for the proposed district, either.
“I have reservations about a library district,” said Legislator Kevin R. Hardwick, R-City of Tonawanda, one of the two who voted to keep the idea alive.
“I’m not happy that $500,000 or so has already been spent on what may end up being, in effect, a dry hole,” he added, referring to money already spent researching the proposal, though library officials dispute that figure. “However, that money has been spent and the library board ... has worked hard on this and I don’t want to be the one to pull the rug out from under them.”
He was joined by Democratic Legislator Patrick B. Burke of South Buffalo in voting “no” on the resolution. Burke said there were too many unanswered questions about the library board’s proposal and he questioned why there was such a rush on an opposition vote that was non-binding anyway.Legislator Lynne M. Dixon, I-Hamburg, joined Burke, Hardwick and Minority Leader Betty Jean Grant, a Buffalo Democrat, in supporting Burke’s failed bid to have the resolution kept alive in committee, noting that there were still numerous unanswered questions about how the special taxing district would affect the county.
In other action Thursday, Peter J. Savage III, the city senior deputy corporation counsel, was sworn into the Legislature to fill the 3rd District seat left vacant by Lynn M. Marinelli, who resigned from the Legislature in January to take a position with the Cuomo administration.
Savage, who has said he would step down from his city post if appointed to the Legislature, was sworn in by State Supreme Court Justice Barbara Howe as family and friends looked on. Attending the ceremony in the Legislature chambers of Old County Hall were Poloncarz, Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown, Deputy Mayor Steve Casey and former Erie County Democratic Committee Chairman G. Steven Pigeon.