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ERIE COUNTY'S EFFICIENCY STUDY

The most surprising thing about Joel A. Giambra's plan to launch a study on how to make county government more efficient is that it took him so long to get around to it.

After all, the Erie County executive had been in office only five months when he invented the Who Does What? Commission to look for ways the region's multiple layers of government could consolidate. As urgent as the need is for Western New York to develop regional approaches to government - Giambra campaigned on that theme - the county is his No. 1 responsibility. This important effort could have been under way months ago.

Still, Giambra should be credited for ordering the study. Although county taxes pale in comparison to the bills mailed out by school districts, Giambra has taken the lead in pushing to lower the costs of government in this high-tax region. With this effort, he may identify relatively painless ways to continue his assault on the county's levy while simultaneously raising the pressure on the county's other taxing entities to undertake a similar effort. There's nothing like leading by example.

More broadly, Giambra's efforts to cut taxes, emphasize regionalism and now to streamline county government have the altogether salutary effect of changing the very tone of government, in large part by doing the crucial work of raising the public's expectations. The more Giambra insists on efforts such as these, the harder it will be for county government to go back to the bloated, enervating model of government that helped bring this region down.

Unfortunately, both the study's timing and its organization have given critics ammunition to argue that, as much as anything, the project is designed to bolster the re-election prospects of Republican County Comptroller Nancy Naples, who will take a prominent role in the effort.

Naples will face Cheektowaga Council Member Jeff Swiatek in the November election, and for reasons no one has explained, she will oversee the outside consulting firm that is to be hired to undertake the study. Swiatek, for one, has drawn the obvious conclusion, although he wholeheartedly endorsed the purpose of the project.

In the end, though, the potential of this study supersedes any concern that a politician might make a political decision to reflect some glory on a philosophical partner - a time-honored practice as American as trading baseball cards or forgetting to pay Social Security for the illegal alien you've hired.

As long as Naples is up to the task and can keep up with the demands of her elected position, more power to her. But she probably shouldn't hold her breath waiting for Swiatek and his political brethren to be so understanding.

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