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FISCAL PICTURE FOR '97 $26 MILLION BRIGHTER THAN PROJECTED

Erie County says it will clear $3.5 million this year by caring for 630 sick and elderly people at the Erie County Home in Alden.

The county says it will save an additional $2 million, or 40 percent, on its Medicaid transportation budget. That budget was a third less than what the county spent on Medicaid taxi, ambulance and bus transportation a couple of years ago.

Overall, the fiscal developments mean $26 million more in the county coffers than expected at the end of the first 10 months of 1997.

Those developments are contained in a report by county Budget Director Kenneth C. Kruly, who makes periodic reports to the County Legislature. His most recent report contained fiscal information through Oct. 31.

Kruly cautioned, however, that $12.5 million is set aside for debt reserve for 1998 and $9.4 million for property tax relief for 1999.

"When those things are factored in, we're looking at something about $7 million," he said.

Kruly said money from the state, arriving months after the county budget is approved, is partly responsible for millions of dollars of good news.

Sometimes a change in state rules produces a windfall, as with the $3.5 million profit at the Erie County Home.

"The state enhanced Medicaid revenues for county-owned nursing homes," Kruly said. "It wasn't anticipated when the budget was adopted in December 1996."

This year's profit is factored into next year's budget for the Alden facility, and the revenue will not show up again as a profit, he said.

The $2 million in savings on Medicaid transportation are considered real savings.

"It's a matter of bus tokens versus taxis," said Joan Guarino, deputy commissioner of the Department of Social Services. "We worked hard at getting people into a more appropriate mode of transportation, and it has paid off. And across the board, fewer people are getting benefits."

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