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Walters presents ideas for change

Hamburg Supervisor Steven J. Walters' "state of the town" address Friday was more like a laundry list of the things he would like to see changed -- including the possible reduction of the Town Board from five to three members.

"We cannot expect or hope for others to make the tough decisions," he told a crowd of about 100 people at the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce-sponsored gathering. "We have to make them ourselves."

Walters also called for decreasing the number of command officers in the Police Department, switching police from eight-hour shifts to 12-hour shifts, cutting benefits for part-time workers, going to a single health insurer and dumping plans to turn the former Foit's Restaurant into a town-owned scenic overlook.

"Our town should be looking to own less property, not more," said Walters, the lone Republican on the board.

The rest of the board members, sitting with Hamburg Democratic Chairman Vincent J. Sorrentino, stopped applauding noticeably before the rest of the crowd at the end of the speech.

"If it's to save taxes, two of us make less collectively than his secretary alone makes," said Councilman D. Mark Cavalcoli. "The reality is that if you only have three board members, maintaining a majority to vote on anything, you have to have three members there all the time. It just functionally doesn't make sense.

"We only make $18,000, and we haven't had a raise in 12 years. He makes $78,000."

Walters said he was calling for a review to determine the feasibility of cutting the board's size.

Councilwoman Joan Kesner said, "What he says and what he does are two different things. He blasted [his predecessor] Pat Hoak for taking his salary, his car and 'hiring his political hacks.' Steve is driving that car, took that salary and every appointment he's had has been his political hack."

Walters also said he wants to change contracts so new hires aren't necessarily receiving the same pay as veteran employees.

"I'm looking at it from an experience viewpoint," Walters said. "If you hire someone in our Highway Department, for example, who is just out of high school and has never had a full-time job in his position, should he be making as much as a guy in the same department that has 15 years experience?

"I say that he probably shouldn't. Those are some of points I want to address in the union contracts."

Walters said he also wants to reduce the ratio of police command officers to regular officers from 3.5-1 to 7-1 , which he said is the national average.

"Imagine being able to increase police protection in the town without spending an extra dime," he said.

He also called for upgrading the town police records system to join the county computer system and for increasing user fees for such areas as the town's golf course, which he said loses $100,000 annually. He also called for maintaining salary and family health care benefits for employees who are called to military duty.

Town Board members said they had been working on going to a single insurer and some of the other issues Walters mentioned since before he took office last January. They urged caution.

"We're going to try to move forward and make changes, and we're always looking for ways to reduce costs and make things more effective," said Cavalcoli. "But we're not going to do change for the sake of change if it's going to hurt town residents."

e-mail: eploetz@buffnews.com

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