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FULL REVIEW OF COUNTY FINANCES COMING

Reacting to Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra's warning of a budget deficit next year, County Legislature Chairman Charles M. Swanick on Wednesday called for a full review of the county's financial condition by the state comptroller's office.

State Comptroller H. Carl McCall, who is already conducting a more limited audit of the county's finances, agreed to broaden the scope of that examination to include information Swanick said is needed by the Legislature before it can act on the budget Giambra will propose on or about Nov. 11.

"The only real way to get a handle on the deficit is to get as much information as possible," said Swanick, D-Kenmore. Asked if he believed the projection of the Republican county executive, Swanick replied, "To be very honest, we don't know at this point."

McCall is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor in 2002.

Swanick later said his gut feeling was that the situation isn't as dire as Giambra forecast.

"I think there may be some problem at the state level, but I'm not sure (that problem) will impact the county to the degree he's expecting," he said.

Giambra had initially warned of a deficit that could be as high as $39.5 million, based on new costs related to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, projected decreases in sales tax revenue and state aid and anticipated increases in state-mandated costs.

But the county's budget director, Joseph Passafiume, said it is now believed the deficit will be about $12.5 million.

"Of that (original projection of) $39 million, approximately $22 million will be taken care of by a series of votes that will take place soon in Albany, transferring funds related to temporary assistance to needy family programs," he said.

"That still leaves us with approximately $17 million, and $4.5 million of that relates to expansion of the (Persons In Need of Supervision) program," Passafiume added. "We are requesting, along with other counties, that the expansion be delayed. We believe there is an agreement that will delay the implementation of this expanded program."

Passafiume said county officials have no problem with Swanick's request for McCall to provide a more in-depth look at county finances.

"We believe, at the end of the review, the comptroller's report will certainly reveal that our 2002 budget strategy is prudent," he said.

e-mail: jbonfatti@buffnews.com

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