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County deal seeks to save money on busing special-needs children

Niagara County is about to make what Public Health Director Daniel J. Stapleton believes will be a money-saving deal on busing for special-needs children.
The County Legislature's Community Services Committee reached a consensus Monday in favor of an agreement with two local bus companies to hold their price increases to no more than 4 percent.

The county is spending $2.1 million this year on busing children under age 5 to treatment in the early intervention and preschool special-education programs. About 300 children use the busing services.
Stapleton said the state mandates that the county must pick up those transportation costs.
Asked how long the contract extensions are going to run, Stapleton said he wants multiyear deals. "We're going to see how many years we can get," he said.
The county has contracts expiring Sept. 1 with First Student, formerly TNT Bus Services, and Laidlaw Education Services.
Stapleton said the companies are now owned by the same person, so in effect the county faces a monopoly.
But he brought the committee copies of letters on the two letterheads committing to the 4 percent cap, and a legal opinion from Assistant County Attorney J. Michael Fitzgerald said that the county doesn't have to seek bids in this situation.
On another topic, the committee learned of another new state mandate from Office of the Aging Director Christopher Richbart. He said the state is requiring some agency in each county to provide a central source of information on all long-term care services for the elderly in that county.
Richbart suggested creating a full-time, $36,000-a-year county post to compile and distribute the data under a program called "Niagara County Connects."
The state is providing $70,000 this year and next to pay for the cost. The resolution the committee is to approve next week called for the job to be abolished when the state funding runs out.
Legislator Malcolm A. Needler, R-North Tonawanda, complained that in past experiences with Albany, "The funding goes away but the mandate doesn't."
Legislator Rebecca E. Cuddahee, D-Niagara Falls, told Richbart, "After two years, every service that's out there should be in a database, and it should be easy for a staff person in your office to update it."
Needler said that he thinks something like this should be done regionally, but that it probably won't ever happen that way.
"We can say we're going to work together, but we're hiring one person, and Erie County is probably hiring three, and we'll never get rid of ours and they'll never get of theirs, and never the twain shall meet," he said.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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