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WITH NO PACT, ECMC WILL LOSE FUNDING

The clock is winding down for Erie County Medical Center.

Majority members of the County Legislature released budget amendments Thursday that would not provide additional money for the hospital to cover its $9 million deficit.

That means the hospital's union leaders have until Monday to reach a written agreement with county administrators regarding their support for the restructuring of ECMC if they want to have their budget fully funded by the start of next year.

Legislators will vote on the amended county budget for 2003 at their 2 p.m. meeting Monday, and majority members said they are prepared to speak as one voice in denying the money if the hospital's unions and administrators do not reach some understanding.

If no agreement is reached Monday, the hospital will receive no budgeted increase in funding. It is possible that next year, the money could be transferred to the hospital from another budget line, however.

Amendments proposed by the majority to the county executive's proposed 2003 budget are relatively minor overall.

They include more positions to enhance public safety, more support to caregivers for senior citizens, more money for summer youth programs, restored money for city snowplowing and more money for libraries.

"Relatively speaking, this is a small package," said Legislature Chairman Albert DeBenedetti, D-Buffalo. "The Legislature asserted itself without spending more money. Everyone is cognizant that this is a pretty decent budget year. Next year will be much harder."

Among the budget amendment additions:

$116,400 for two assistant district attorneys for the county's Drug Court program.

$48,200 for a new officer in the Probation Department.

$132,700, which will leverage another $271,000 in federal money, in support of a program to assist caregivers for senior citizens.

$200,000 to support the City of Buffalo's snow-removal program.

$200,000 for Operation Prime Time, a summer program for city and county youths.

The amendments also set aside $196,300 to let public libraries maintain Sunday and weekday hours. However, the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library board decided Thursday to raise fines even higher than originally proposed to keep extended hours without seeking more county money.

The amendments also would restore some funding to 13 other cultural groups and human service organizations.

Money to cover the additional costs would be shaved from other county department accounts affecting dues and fees, supplies, travel, fringe benefits and family assistance. The property tax levy would not be affected.

Minority Leader Charles M. Swanick, D-Kenmore, expressed support for the majority's amendments, even though he only had time to page through them quickly.

"I think this package reflects many of the thoughts and issues that the Democrats raised," he said. "This is a milk-and-toast budget. It's a business-as-usual budget with some increase in areas of concern."

e-mail: stan@buffnews.com

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