Copying death certificates in Amherst is turning out to be a lot more lucrative than former Town Clerk John R. Shearer made it out to be.
In the two months since Shearer retired, records show the town has received $4,755 for furnishing certified copies of death certificates -- $1,015 more than Shearer said he pocketed in all of 1989. At that rate, the clerk's office could expect to receive about $28,500 a year for providing the certified copies needed to settle people's estates.
State law permitted Shearer to keep the copying fees in addition to his $55,000-a-year salary. Under his successor, the fees are going into the town's general fund.
Shearer, who retired Sept. 30 and now lives in Punta Gorda, Fla., is the target of an Internal Revenue Service investigation into the income he reported from 1986 through 1989.
On orders he said came from his attorney, Shearer has declined to comment on the IRS probe since its disclosure Sept. 29 by The Buffalo News.
Town clerk for 22 years and a power in local and countywide Republican politics for much of that time, Shearer on Aug. 1 claimed that he received $3,740 for certified copies of death certificates last year.
But records since he left show the clerk's office took in $2,380 for 476 certified copies of death certificates in October, and $2,375 for 475 copies in November.
In the past two months, the Amherst clerk's office also received $365 for 73 certified copies of birth certificates and $170 for 34 certified copies of marriage licenses, according to Leslie A. Petrie, town registrar of vital statistics.
Combined certified-copy fees for October and November -- $5,290 for birth, death and marriage documents -- indicate the potential for $31,740 over 12 months.
Documents "certified" by being stamped with the town's seal cost $5 apiece. Several death certificates are usually needed to settle most people's estates.
In addition to earning $55,000 as town clerk, Shearer also served as the town's registrar of vital statistics. In the latter role, he was entitled by state law to keep copying fees as well as various other registrar fees.
Shearer's claim that he earned just $3,740 in death-certificate copying fees in 1989 touched off a furor in Town Hall, with several of his former employees charging that the amount was far too low.
Shearer's figure of $3,740 would mean his office made 748 copies of death certificates in 1989 -- or 203 fewer than were issued in the two months since he retired.
A woman who cashed the checks for death-certificate copies for about six years told The News in August that she couldn't remember ever coming back from the bank with less than $200 a week.
The neighboring Town of Tonawanda, of similar size, reported more than $31,000 in copy-fee revenues last year, and a single funeral home reported paying Shearer more than $4,000 in copy fees in a recent one-year period.
The controversy resulted in the Amherst Town Board ordering that all registrar-related fees be put in the town's general fund under the new town clerk, former Republican Councilman William L. Kindel.
The board also named Ms. Petrie registrar for an extra $2,400 a year after Kindel said he didn't want to serve in the dual capacity that Shearer had.