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The county Board of Health Thursday approved a 1998 Health Department budget request that would lead to closing the county's public health laboratory, effective Jan. 1.

The local program portion of the budget is $10,068,774, $2,203 less than this year's. Board President Dr. Mitchell Zavon called the slight reduction "psychologically important," since the County Legislature's Finance Committee had requested that local spending not increase.

The total budget, including state-mandated preschool special education programs partially reimbursed by the state, is $23,248,997. The department's director of financial operations, Daniel J. Stapleton, said that is an increase of 6.3 percent.

The programs include an early intervention program for handicapped children under age 3, which is rising $326,707, or 8.3 percent; and a handicapped education program for children ages 3 to 5, which is growing by $900,000, or 12.6 percent.

After considering various personnel options in a 50-minute executive session, the board decided to stick with its original plan to close the department lab. Its duties will be contracted to Erie County, saving $100,378, according to Stapleton's figures. "We've zeroed out the budget except for incidental expenses and the continuation of the lab director," Zavon said.

Lab Director Paul Meade will stay on part-time to oversee the transition period. All other lab employees but one were transferred within the department. That one took a job with the Erie County lab.

"The proposal to eliminate the lab is not just for efficiency but for effectiveness," Zavon said.

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