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Town OKs budget with tax hike of nearly 5%

The Orchard Park Town Board has passed a budget that will increase taxes for most town residents by 4.98 percent -- about $30 per household for a property worth $200,000.

The board met Wednesday and Thursday, finally approving the 2008 budget Thursday night. The tax rate increase is about 4 percent less than in the town's tentative budget for general and highway funds.

Supervisor Mary Travers Murphy said the key to the smaller increase was moving employees' health insurance into the Labor Management Healthcare Fund on Jan. 1.

In the past, the fund has never been able to match Orchard Park workers' benefits, she said. But the fund is changing its offerings next year.

"What they're doing is mirroring the plans, so we can march in with our 140 employees and retirees," said Travers Murphy. "We're joining a pool of thousands of customers, so administration costs plummet."

The savings, Travers Murphy said, is about $200,000 per year for two years. That amount was trimmed from the tax levy.

The town's two-year cost for employee health insurance will be cut from $3.8 million to $3.4 million, a cut of about 10.5 percent.

The town's unions have accepted the move, Travers Murphy said, because their benefits will remain the same. Union representatives attended the meetings.

"Everybody seems to be on board," Travers Murphy said.

The budget total is $14.6 million. The general fund share of taxes is up 7.3 percent, with the highway portion going up 2.3 percent.

The budget was approved by a 4-1 vote, with Councilman Mark Dietrick dissenting.

"I was concerned that the burden of the increased expenses had fallen fully on the shoulders of the taxpayer," Dietrick said. "I felt I could not support the final tax rates."

Dietrick said he had presented possible cuts totaling approximately $350,000. He also said he wants to look into reducing some full-time jobs to part time and that he opposes the amount of the town's fund balance being applied toward the budget. Between the town's major funds, $1.2 million of fund balance was used.

The special district budget, which includes costs such as garbage pickup and lighting, passed, 5-0.

The numbers used to calculate the tax effect were based on the town's 61 percent equalization rate, which would give a home worth $200,000 an assessed value of $122,000. Taxes on that home, if located outside the Village of Orchard Park, would rise from $598 to $628.

e-mail: eploetz@buffnews.com

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