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Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra is calling for a major summit on health care in Western New York this year -- an event he says will be part of a new focus on health and social service issues in his second year in office.

Giambra announced the summit during his first "State of the County" address, delivered today at the Buffalo Convention Center in an event sponsored by area Rotary Clubs.

"My friends, somebody has to say it, so I will: We have a health care problem in this county," he said. "We have too many hospitals. We have too many buildings. It's time to talk.

"I will host this (summit) meeting as soon as possible, because this community can neither afford nor tolerate five hospital systems each trying to go it alone," the county executive said.

In his address, Giambra outlined the accomplishments of his administration during 2000 and painted in broad strokes his plans for this year.

At the top of the list, he said, are health and social service issues -- including a top-to-bottom reorganization of the county's Social Services Department.

"My team is rethinking the entire spectrum of human service efforts," said Giambra, a Democrat-turned-Republican who won election as the county's sixth chief executive in 1999.

For example, Giambra said he was "astounded" to learn that the Social Services Department has annual leases for office space totaling $14 million.

"That's $14 million every year. I posed a very simple question: Can we do it for less?" Giambra said. "I believe we can -- but we have to take a hard look at every program, every mandate, every office and every possibility to meet our responsibilities more responsibly."

Social services reorganization is especially urgent this year because many Erie County residents who are currently on welfare will see their benefits expire at the end of 2001, Giambra said.

"This is the year when welfare reform really hits home," he said.

Besides health care and social services, Giambra announced that his administration also will be getting into garbage in 2001.

A new collaboration with the City of Buffalo will see the county take over as manager of the city's solid waste transfer station, he said. He said that the takeover could be the first step toward countywide regional cooperation on garbage collection and disposal that could end up saving taxpayers money.

"We face the sad situation that every city and every town handles its garbage alone, as if no other town or city had garbage to dispose of," Giambra said. "To those who say 'regionalism is garbage' -- I say, 'You're right.' And it's time we started talking trash together."

Giambra also outlined his administration's accomplishments during the past 14 months, placing special emphasis on cuts in the county's property tax rate and various economic development initiatives.

The county executive pointed to achievements including the following:

A cut of more than 31 percent in Erie County's property tax levy in the past two years, from the time Giambra ran for office as county executive.

A report containing recommendations for 17 regional collaborations and consolidations prepared by the Who Does What? Commission, a group conceived by Giambra and organized by the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.

Economic development successes, including the commitment and reinvestment of General Motors in its Powertrain plant in the Town of Tonawanda; the addition of 400 jobs at Quebecor's printing plant in Lancaster; expansions at HSBC offices here; and the forthcoming Adelphia project on the Buffalo waterfront.

What Giambra called new and important "conversations across borders" with Canadian leaders and leaders of other Western New York counties, including the work of the Bi-National Leaders Forum.

A $5 million investment of Erie County funds in the Buffalo public school system, money that will leverage millions of dollars in state aid for city schools.

The securitization of its share of the state tobacco industry settlement that netted the county $211 million in up-front cash.

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