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Amherst budget figure still elusive Mohan, comptroller publicly disagree

In a sign of ongoing town dysfunction, the Town of Amherst still has no final budget figure or estimates of taxpayer impact of the 2008 budget the Town Board voted on and approved a week ago.

Supervisor Satish B. Mohan and Comptroller Frank Belliotti publicly disagreed Monday as to why this is the case.

Council Member Shelly Schratz, however, publicly expressed bitter disappointment in the effectiveness of Belliotti in providing the supervisor and Town Board accurate numbers despite repeated requests.

"I'm totally disgusted," Schratz said after Monday's Town Board meeting. "If we can't count on the comptroller to give us the correct information -- especially one week after the budget -- then there's a breakdown in that office. And who's holding up the highway contract? He is."

She and Mohan said they held Belliotti partially responsible for the failure of highway employees to receive their raises.

Belliotti said he felt constrained by state law to make any additional changes to the budget at this late date.

While additional budget corrections could potentially save taxpayers more money, Town Attorney E. Thomas Jones said administrators can only make minor interbudget transfers at this point. It is too late for the board to make any changes that would increase or decrease bottom-line budget revenues and expenses, or affect the approved -- but still unknown -- tax levy.

Meanwhile, the board heard from members of the Amherst Highway Employees Association, who came out by the dozens to demand that the Town of Amherst honor its contract with the association.

During the open comment period, union President Christopher J. O'Neill pointed out that even though the town signed a contract with the AHEA on Aug. 16, none of the union employees have gotten raises or retroactive pay dating back to Jan. 1, 2006.

"Since August, we have heard a lot of promises and happy talk," O'Neill said. But no raises have yet been issued. "We bargained in good faith. Please honor your agreement."

Dozens of employees in the audience echoed the sentiment, applauding and yelling out, "Pay up!"

Mohan said he has had unreasonable difficulty getting the necessary figures from the comptroller's office to pay the highway employees.

In other matters, the board:

*Approved, after lengthy debate, the environmental impact statement for Ciminelli Development's Muir Woods project, which has faced significant environmental challenges over the past seven years.

The approval wraps up the town's investigation into the environmental affects the development will have on the property. Town officials say the public will still have opportunities to weigh in on the project as the process moves forward over the coming weeks.

*Approved a local law, subject to a mandatory referendum next year, that would give the town assessor's job a "special agencies branch" designation instead of an "executive branch" designation.

The change would make the town assessor's job a position that is confirmed by the Town Board instead of an appointed position subject to the sole authority of the town supervisor.

The resolution, sponsored by Council Member Daniel J. Ward, reflects the desire of some board members to protect Assessor Harry Williams from an existing power struggle between Mohan and Williams. It was approved, 4-3.


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