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Erie County's new Public Safety Center might not become the most high-tech empty building in town.

The center, which is being built at a cost of about $33 million, was to remain empty once completed, since the Public Works Department didn't have money to maintain it.

This week, aides to County Executive Joel A. Giambra patched together a way to open the building, at least for the rest of 2005.

Giambra's aides suggest devoting $120,000 in homeland security money and $250,000 from the state for wireless technology to the center's operations. That should free money for maintenance, which right now is the main sticking point, Giambra said.

He said officials will try to pay the building's maintenance personnel with about $260,000, less than half of the $700,000 once estimated. "We are going to have a few less cleaning people, less engineers, and we'll privatize the security," Giambra said.

Gerard J. Sentz, the acting public works commissioner, says he will stagger the deployment of maintenance personnel to let the maintenance effort ramp up as the building itself ramps up. For example, he will need engineers on staff to learn the building's systems in April, but he won't need people emptying wastebaskets and cleaning floors.

The idea is likely to go before county lawmakers Thursday.

Said Giambra: "It's all about being creative. It's amazing what a crisis will do."

The center -- bounded by Elm Street, North and South Division streets and Michigan Avenue -- was built to consolidate several units. Among them: the Central Police Services information system, the 911 service center and one of the nation's seven FBI-certified computer forensic laboratories. It is to be part of an eventual public safety campus, with links to nearby Erie Community College.

Some other services once thought to be casualties of the 2005 budget crisis are gradually being restored. In recent weeks, officials found money to still run three health clinics, and they are close to reopening the two county-owned golf courses and are discussing ways to care for county parks.

The Buffalo Board of Education has ensured that some nurses once paid by county government remain in city schools.

Meanwhile, auditors assigned by State Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi to analyze the county's financial status are at work in the Rath County Office Building, and the Buffalo Niagara Partnership has begun an analysis.


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