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PAY INCREASES STIR ANGER IN BUDGET DEBATE

East Aurora's $5.9 million budget doesn't raise taxes for village residents, but it has stirred controversy created by salary increases slated for a handful of non-union employees.

The most contentious of the raises -- a 19 percent increase for Village Clerk-Treasurer Joyce M. Jezewski, bringing her salary to $38,000 -- generated the bulk of criticism by some employees in other village departments.

Several trustees Monday criticized the pay raises, but the Village Board still adopted the 2005-06 budget and salary raises for six employees by a 6-1 vote. Trustee Patrick McDonnell was the only board member to vote against the budget.

Mayor David DiPietro stressed the budget's tax decrease. "It's showing we're trying to tighten our belts and be fiscally conservative," he said.

Spending will increase by less than 1 percent, while the tax rate will drop by nearly 1 percent to $15.57 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. Last year's tax rate remained stable.

McDonnell praised the overall spending plan but faulted the size of the salary increases. "I think the increases are too high, given the local financial situation," he said.

Trustee Heidi Potenza said she was outraged by letters from other village employees, indicating that criticism had largely turned personal against one employee. She was referring to Jezewski, a two-year village employee who received a 17 percent pay raise last year.

"I don't think there's any room for this," Potenza said. However, she acknowledged that some increases "are pretty steep" and said she understood why other workers were miffed.

Jezewski -- whom administrators have defended as hard-working and praised for saving the village thousands of dollars in phone leasing costs and in other areas -- attended the board meeting. Non-union clerical staff have received pay raises ranging from 14 to 23 percent in the past three years, said Village Administrator Kimberly LaMarche.

The administration has argued that until recently, the clerical staff's salary increases haven't kept pace with those of unionized workers in tight budgets. The other clerks' salary raises range from 5 percent to 19 percent.

Trustee Craig Locke called on the board to look at "harmonizing" pay raises for village workers. "I am concerned about the unknown and what will happen with county cuts," he said. "We have a stagnant tax base in this community. Any increases we have, have to come out of new taxes."

The village is negotiating contracts with its police and dispatch unions. The budget, which takes effect June 1, does not set aside money for raises for unionized workers. Village officials have indicated that surplus funds left from the current fiscal year could be tapped to cover those costs.

Trustee Elizabeth Cheteny urged the board to establish a reserve fund for parks, specifically earmarking money to enhance the Sinking Ponds area and tear down a dilapidated public works building at the nature site.

The board can make budget amendments after May 31.

e-mail: krobinson@buffnews.com

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