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PLAN TO CLOSE SATELLITE SITE IS ON TRACK

Plans to protest the expected closing of a county Department of Social Services satellite office in Lackawanna likely will fall on deaf ears.

"Plans have been made to phase out the operation, and that's not likely to change," said Deborah Merrifield, Social Services commissioner.

County Legislator Edward J. Kuwik, D-Lackawanna, said he continues efforts to try to keep the office open. "But to be realistic, I don't think that's going to happen," he added.

The STRIDE (South Towns Rural Innovative Decentralized Experiment) office opened in 1989 and was the first of a planned series of satellite offices. But no others were opened, and now the county wants to centralize operations to make better use of a shrinking staff, Merrifield said.

The office handles about 2,300 cases throughout the Southtowns, and those clients now will have to go to the Rath County Office Building in downtown Buffalo. But more and more services are being handled over the phone or by mail, so in many cases it is only necessary for clients to make an office call once a year, officials said.

"If we had the resources and could have several community-based offices, it would be very positive," Merrifield said. "But we just can't replace (at a satellite) all the services we must provide through a central office," she said.

The 17 staff members are expected to be downtown by January.

She said there is no estimate on how much money will be saved but stressed that the cost of renting the space was secondary to the savings from staff centralization.

Lackawanna officials said they would provide free office space if that was the issue.

Most of the clients interviewed last week were surprised to learn the office will be closing.

"This will have a big impact on me," said Rachel Fleming of Blasdell. "Here you can get right in and right out."

That usually isn't the case at the Rath Building, where often there are long lines, both Fleming and Springville resident Karen Arnold said.

Asked how they have been treated there, both said, "Like a number."

e-mail: ternst@buffnews.com

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