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Clarence's four Town Board members will earn nearly as much as their counterparts in Amherst and considerably more than board members in Lancaster next year.

Clarence board members have decided to take a 3 percent salary hike next year, instead of the 4 percent other officials will receive, town Supervisor Paul McCarthy said Wednesday.

Nevertheless, the raises -- or "cost of living adjustments" as Clarence officials prefer to call them -- will boost the salaries of board members to $19,819.

Board members in Amherst, Clarence's big neighbor to the west, earn $20,580 a year, or $761 more than what Clarence board members will gross next year.

On Clarence's southern border, Lancaster board members want a 5 percent raise to $13,085, or $6,734 less than in Clarence.

Amherst's six board members haven't taken a raise since 1990 and won't next year. Meanwhile, Clarence has closed the gap, with board members earning 20.4 percent more than they did in 1991.

Amherst has an estimated population of about 115,000; Clarence, between 20,000 and 21,000, and Lancaster, almost 40,000.

Amherst has a budget of more than $84 million, about 650 full-time employees and a townwide tax rate of $6.10 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. Clarence has fewer than than 100 employees, a budget of about $14 million and a tax rate next year of $2.73.

But Clarence officials say their board members function almost as four additional town supervisors, without the many well-staffed departments and consultant expertise that Amherst relies on.

In comparison to Amherst, very little decision-making authority is delegated in Clarence, where board members deal with matters as trivial as tent sales and whether restaurants can set up tables for outside dining in the summer.

The Clarence board also meets more often than Amherst's, with special morning or afternoon sessions not uncommon. And regular work sessions of the Clarence board usually consume three to four hours, much longer than in Amherst.

However, twice-monthly evening voting meetings of the Amherst board usually last longer than those in Clarence, which does some of its business in work sessions and has much stricter rules for residents to address the board from the floor.

McCarthy -- as supervisor, the fifth member of the Clarence board -- didn't take a raise this year, his first in office. He said Wednesday that he is budgeted for a raise to $59,972 next year, a four percent increase.

Amherst's supervisor earns $65,100, the same as in 1990. A five percent raise in 1997 would bring the supervisor of Lancaster a salary of $49,847.

McCarthy said that with four percent raises, the salaries of the town's other elected officials will look like this next year:

Highway superintendent -- $55,702.

Town justices -- $28,331.

Town clerk -- $45,438.

Tax receiver -- $42,190.

The town's best paid official will be the town engineer at $63,666, McCarthy reported.

The assessor will be paid $44,942 and the community development director, $44,200, with the top officials in the water and parks departments each earning $45,000.

Next door in Amherst, department heads aren't getting raises next year. Base salaries remain at $73,877 for the town engineer, $62,405 for the assessor, and $73,877 for the planning director.

The highway superintendent in Amherst makes $61,483; town justices, $42,000; the town clerk, $55,000 and the tax receiver, $43,200.

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