LITTLE VALLEY - The Cattaraugus County Legislature reorganized Wednesday, welcoming 10 new county lawmakers and calling for continued bipartisan cooperation.

Republicans control 12 of the Legislature's 21 seats after the November election.

Legislature Chairman Crystal Abers, R-South Dayton, warned legislators against continuing to dip into the county's $16 million surplus.

"We are not over in our fund balance amount and we should not look at that as a pot of free or extra money to spend," she said.

Besides the rising cost of health care and workers compensation, Mrs. Abers said rising the rising cost of fuel, steel and construction materials means the county is "actually buying less and we are completing less (road and bridge) work."

Mrs. Abers said improved infrastructure means not only sewer and water systems, but improving Internet service and attracting and retaining businesses. Tourism promotion must continue to be a priority, she said.

"We look forward to an exciting year" celebrating the county's Bicentennial, Mrs. Abers said. "We will be celebrating throughout the entire year and have included every village, city and town in our celebrations."

She said she was looking forward to the 10-day wagon train "which will travel throughout the county like in the old days."

Mrs. Abers emphasized the need to "fight hard for the continuance of the work on Route 219."

"This is also so important to the economic retention and growth of our county."

Vice Chairman Michael O'Brien, R-Portville, urged lawmakers to work together to set achievable goals. He said the county's fiscal condition is in better shape than most counties, and has among the lowest true value tax rates in the state.

He urged state lawmakers to consider expanding the STAR program that helps senior citizens pay their school taxes to county and other municipal property taxes. This added tax help would help seniors meet rising costs of staying in their own homes, he said.

Mr. O'Brien also commented on negotiations with county unions, saying, "We've got to try to negotiate a fair contract."

He suggested county negotiators first look at how benefits - especially health insurance - compare to other counties and school districts in the county. County employees, including legislators, are eligible to participate in the county's self-insured health care plan for a small biweekly contribution.

He echoed Mrs. Abers warning on the surplus, saying the county actually had enough to cover about one month's expenses when auditors recommend a surplus level equal to two or three months of expenses.

"We're better than most (counties), but we've got to be careful," he said, warning against borrowing too much, or spending down the surplus.

Majority Leader James J. Snyder, R-Olean, a former legislator for 26 years, majority leader and Legislature chairman for 10 years, returned to his seat after losing it four years ago. He urged both parties to set their priorities and work together.

"I'm happy to be here," said Mr. Snyder, 71.

"At Bucky's and my age, we're glad to be anywhere," he laughed, referring to Salamanca Democrat Kenneth "Bucky" McClune, who is 78.

Mr. Snyder also acknowledged three sons of legislators he formerly served with were members of the present County Legislature: James Boser, D-Allegany, Steve Teachman, R-Olean, and John Padlo, D-Olean.

Mr. Snyder represented Portville on the Legislature from 1970 to 1991 when he was named to a post in the Bush White House. He was appointed in 1998 to the vacancy caused by the resignation of Catharine M. Young of Olean, who was named to the state Assembly. Defeated for re-election in 2003, Mr. Snyder was among three Republicans elected in District 10 (city and town of Olean and the Knapp Creek area in Allegany) in November.

In her acceptance speech, Minority Leader Linda Witte, D-Olean, accepted the Republicans' offer of cooperation, but quickly stated: "It is the responsibility of the minority in a legislative body to question the majority when appropriate and present the public with another side of the story when needed."

Mrs. Witte, who is beginning here second four-year term, echoed Mrs. Abers' earlier call for a closer look at shared services.

"I believe our county government must continue to look for ways to work with the other levels of government to find ways to reduce the cost of government for our citizens."

She applauded the recent decision by Allegany town and village officials to explore consolidation.