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COUNTY FACING HIGHER COSTS FOR WELFARE, ECMC, BUT GORSKI STICKS WITH TAX CUT

Erie County is facing $11 million in new welfare costs.

In addition, Erie County Medical Center is seeking an increase of $4.1 million to cover contractual wage increases and the addition of of 31 full-time nurses. The medical center also may be forced to close a clinic to make ends meet.

Meanwhile, County Executive Gorski said that despite the need for $15 million in new money for the Department of Social Services, the 20.3 percent tax cut planned for the next two years will stand.

"We are just going to have to be a little bit tighter in the year 2000," Gorski said.

Gorski will unveil a proposed budget before the November election.

Legislators are committed to a 6.3 percent tax cut for the year 2000 and a 14 percent cut for 2001.

The medical center, which has started hiring nurses, needs more nurses for summer accidents and winter geriatric ills, officials said.

While adding nurses, the medical center may close a community clinic yet to be selected and will consider whether to continue operating chemical-dependency units, where finances have been described as tight.

Meanwhile, the hospital is a target of some Republican legislators who would like to privatize it.

The Department of Social Services, with a total budget request of $399.2 million for next year, represents nearly 44 percent of the county budget and is one of the largest businesses in the county.

The department "deals with the most sensitive needs in our community," said Gorski, who pointed out that the caseload has dropped by 36 percent during his 12 years as county executive. It now stands at 21,000, the lowest since 1975, he said.

Social Services Commissioner Deborah A. Merrifield says annual costs have declined by $64.2 million since 1994. But next year, the county will have to pick up an additional $11 million in costs, previously covered by the state or federal governments, she said.

Welfare clients who go to work continue to receive Medicaid, day care and often help with transportation until their earnings reach the poverty line, she said. At the poverty level, they continue to receive at least a year of Medicaid and often food stamps.

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