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Erie County Executive-elect Joel A. Giambra on Tuesday named Joseph A. Passafiume, his friend of some 20 years who is currently top aide to County Comptroller Nancy A. Naples, as county budget director starting Jan. 1.

Giambra made the appointment from the New York City hospital where he is recovering from surgery for throat cancer.

"I have been privileged to know and work with Joe for many years. He has repeatedly demonstrated his comprehensive knowledge of Erie County's financial issues," Giambra said in a written statement. "By appointing a person with Joe's credentials and experience, I am sending a strong message about my commitment to fiscal discipline."

The appointment came as Giambra's top aides announced that recalculations in administrative salaries may mean slightly reducing some top-level salaries in the new government.

Bruce L. Fisher, chief of staff to the incoming county executive, said Passafiume will be paid a maximum of $94,120, less than the $96,385 that County Executive Dennis T. Gorski's budget director, Kenneth C. Kruly, made this year.

That amount will be decreased by another 4 percent if, as expected, Giambra asks the County Legislature to pass a measure cutting the raises approved for the county's hundred-odd "exempt" workers -- those top employees not covered by union contracts -- soon after he takes office Jan 1. The loss of the 4 percent raises would apply to all top administrators in the exempt classification hired by the new government, including Giambra himself, Fisher said.

"We're not starting people at the high end of the salary scale," Fisher said. "We're building our team on the basis of competence and strength. We'll sort out the numbers."

Passafiume, 49, is director of investment and cash management in Naples' office, controlling the county's multimillion-dollar investments on a day-to-day basis.

In his new position as chief preparer of Erie County's $1 billion annual budget, Passafiume said he will establish several "top priorities":

Opening the lines of communication and cooperation between the offices of county executive and county comptroller -- ties that had been strained in recent years by the sometimes adversarial relationship of Gorski and Naples.

A move toward "multiyear budgeting" for county government, to keep a handle on costs and make more savvy investment and funding choices.

The establishment of long-term planning guidelines for capital projects for which Erie County is -- and will be -- a major funding source.

"I think I can fulfill Mr. Giambra's vision of a more cost-effective government, government at a lower cost that still provides for everybody," Passafiume said. "It's to the administration's benefit that I've been with the county since 1981. I'm very familiar with the workings of each department and what its role and mission is."

Passafiume lives in the Town of Tonawanda with his wife and two children.

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