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Tax cuts in Amherst to average 1.2% Highway Dept. savings fail to materialize, limiting supervisor's projected reduction

The numbers are finally in.

Amherst's $115.7 million operating budget for 2008 will increase town spending by 2.9 percent over this year's budget, while cutting overall taxes for town residents by an average of 1.2 percent.

Next year, for the first time in eight years, the tax levy -- the overall amount of revenue the town raises through taxes -- will decrease.

"This is a small step in the right direction, but a giant leap in the trend change," Supervisor Satish Mohan said.

Mohan and Comptroller Frank Belliotti quietly released the updated numbers without any comment or discussion Monday during the Town Board's work session and regular meeting.

The public had waited three weeks for the final budget numbers.

The board approved the budget at its Oct. 29 meeting without firm figures and only vague assurances that the tax levy probably would not increase.

While Mohan originally had planned to save taxpayers more, Belliotti said anticipated savings in the Highway Department didn't pan out.

Residents will get a small tax break -- even though budgeted spending will grow -- primarily because Mohan is drawing $6.5 million from the town's surplus funds to cover the gap.

Some other board members and members of the public have criticized the controversial move.

But Mohan said the town's savings exceed its needs and that "giving money back to the taxpayers" will not harm the town's strong financial standing or bond rating.

Town spending in Amherst has not actually declined since 1999, mostly because nearly 60 percent of the budget involves wages and personnel benefits that include contractual, annual raises and rising insurance and pension costs.

Mohan said he intends to post a letter on the town's Web site by late today outlining broad points in the budget and making comparisons with amended budgets for this year and last year.

Monday night's board meeting was remarkably brief, but not without moments of typical unpleasantness.

Council Member Michael McGuire rebuked a few speakers after the public comment period, telling them that their comments were uncalled for and abusive.

"We have feelings up here, too," McGuire said. "I won't stand for it, and neither will anyone else up here. You don't have to get personal."

"Yes," Mohan added, "and I would say the same thing to board members. They must learn to behave with decency and civility toward other board members."

When Council Member Daniel Ward asked who Mohan was referring to, the supervisor said he was referring to Ward.

He went on to characterize Ward's board resolutions -- many of which criticize the supervisor -- as "indecent, uncivil, false" and filled with "gutter language."

Ward's resolutions occasionally accuse Mohan of destructive, illegal and unscrupulous behavior.

Mohan said Ward's characterizations were intolerable and must stop.

"You are not the emperor here," Ward replied.

e-mail: stan@buffnews.com

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