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LEGISLATURE TO GET HEALTH DEPT. BUDGET THAT HOLDS LINE

The Niagara County Board of Health unanimously approved a 1999 Health Department budget that obeys the County Legislature's mandate to hold the line.

Legislator Gerald R. DeFlippo, R- Lockport, said he thinks the plan will find favor with the Legislature, which must act on it as part of the overall 1999 county budget.

"It's a good proposal -- cut right down to the bare bones," said DeFlippo, the only legislator who also serves on the Board of Health.

Daniel J. Stapleton, the Health Department's director of financial operations, presented a total budget of $22,997,701, down $316,153, or 1.4 percent, from the current year's.

The reductions weren't easy, Stapleton said, because the department's revenue estimates are also down. Income was estimated at $16,713,980 for 1999, a drop of $315,690. The main reason is a cut in Medicare reimbursements.

Most of the department's operations are reimbursed by the state and federal governments. The remainder, the cost to county property taxpayers, was placed at $6,283,721, a reduction of $463 from this year's.

No layoffs are envisioned, but there will be some job cuts by attrition, including a supervisor's post in environmental health.

Public Health Nursing trimmed its equipment purchases and home health aide fees. The Long Term Home Health Care sector assumed there will be less demand for home health aides and personal care aides.

The budget envisions continuing to operate the public health laboratory at the same limited level as this year. The board tried to close it last year, but the Legislature blocked the move. It will cost $141,925, a reduction of $1,000 from 1998.

The largest item in the budget is education of preschool handicapped children, at $7,942,500. That's a reduction of $79,500 from the current year. Stapleton said, "There's a leveling off in the number of children."

He also envisioned savings on transportation for the children as a result of the expiration of a busing contract.

Stapleton said it was the fifth consecutive year the Legislature had ordered no increase in costs, and the second year it had decreed that any increase in revenue not be used to counteract a cost increase.

However, he said that the Legislature has not allowed him to budget for a salary increase for union employees, whose contract expires at the end of this year.

Noting that cost-of-living raises this year totaled $175,000, Stapleton said, "If we're directed near the end of this year or early next year to find (the money for raises), I don't know where we're going to find it."

On the topic of the board's planned smoking ban, members said they had not received any comment about their action, approved last month. It is expected to take effect next spring, unless opponents file a lawsuit against it.

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