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A fiscal catastrophe in the making

     Researchers at the University at Buffalo's Regional Institute are not known for their inflammatory statements or outrageous findings. So their suggestion that Western New York is facing a "fiscal crisis of potentially catastrophic proportions" may catch many off guard.

     Even more shocking, they may be right.

     A new study by the institute delves into the long-term cost of retiree health care among local government employees.

     The price tag? About $3.7 billion.

     And guess what else? The cost is rising fast. So fast, says institute director Kathryn Foster, that the result could end local government as we know it.

      Thus, the name of UB's study: The End of Local Government as We Know It?

     "These figures reveal for the first time the sheer scale of the long-term benefit commitments faced by local governments," Foster said in announcing the results.

      What the UB study found was long-term liabilities that range from a high of about $1 billion each for the City of Buffalo and the Buffalo Public Schools to a low of $1 million at the Williamsville Central School District. The institute looked at nine large local governments.

    Even more disturbing, most local governments are doing little to address the issue. In Foster's eyes, that means pushing it off on the next generation.

    There are no easy answers to this problem but the likely solutions range from a reduction in retiree health benefits to the creation of trust funds that can't be raided to governments joining together to buy insurance and keep costs lower.

     As the folks footing the bill right now, what do you think?

   -- Phil Fairbanks



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