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DESPITE COMPLAINTS, BOARD UPHOLDS PROPERTY REASSESSMENTS

After listening to dozens more residents complain about inflated assessments, Amherst lawmakers voted, 6-1, Monday night against a proposal to declare the town's property tax revaluations null and void.

The vote followed an afternoon work session in which attorney Paul Morrison-Taylor, who advises the town on reassessments, declared the measure illegal. He said the board has no legal power to direct the assessor's activities.

Nevertheless, Council Member Daniel J. Ward, who proposed the measure, said he intends to hold a second meeting at 7 p.m. on April 25 at Town Hall to take complaints from residents regarding assessment increases.

"I think it's a really hot issue," Ward said.

Nearly 200 angry residents showed up last week for a similar meeting, many of them shouting their disapproval and frustration over Amherst's rapidly rising tax assessments.

Supervisor Susan J. Grelick, who has defended the town's assessments, said the town will not change them. "Amherst's assessment process is fair, equitable, legal and has ultimately benefited taxpayers," she said.

In other action, board members learned that Amherst could save more than $3 million over the next two years by switching to a sole health insurance provider.

Independent Health wants to become the exclusive medical insurance carrier for Amherst starting June 1, according to Kevin B. Gannon, an insurance consultant. Gannon briefed town officials on the company's proposal at a work session meeting.

Unions representing Amherst's 700 full-time workers must still approve the proposal, but Personnel Director Robert P. McCarthy said he is confident that will be accomplished.

"The plan is almost going to sell itself," McCarthy said.

Under the Independent Health proposal, Amherst could cut its insurance costs to about $12.4 million for the 18-month period starting July 1 -- "a significant savings" over the $15.6 million it would expect to pay under current arrangements with the area's three major health insurers, McCarthy said.

Independent Health is also offering to increase benefits and provide common benefit plans for both active town employees and retirees, he said.

Gannon, senior client executive for Niagara Insurance Group, has been working with the town for about two years to develop a new method of dealing with health insurers.

Instead of offering its employees multiple plans administered by several insurance companies, the town decided to follow in the footsteps of Erie County and develop a single insurance plan that fits its needs. Bids will be sought to provide the coverage.

e-mail: tdolan@buffnews.com

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