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$12 million Wheatfield budget includes increased costs

For the first time in 14 budgets, Supervisor Timothy E. Demler has not been able to offer a tax cut.

As chief fiscal officer for the town, Demler unveiled his 2009 town budget recommendation Wednesday that did not show a reduction in costs for homeowners.

At least two areas -- sewer and refuse collection -- showed sizable increases.

Demler blamed the budget woes on a number of costs the town cannot control: health care, fuel, utilities, state mandates, and decreased revenues.

Demler, whose budgets have traditionally been marked by at least small tax cuts while maintaining the same or greater level of services, said he was disappointed he could not pull off another cut in the $12 million package he will take to the Town Board this month.

"Yes, this is the first time we haven't had a reduction. I find it personally offensive," he said following a news conference.

Still, despite the setback, he remained optimistic for 2010. He said two bonds would be retired next year, eliminating almost $500,000 in debt service. He promised to use the savings to cut taxes by $30 to $50 per home.

The primary culprit Demler discussed was the plethora of requirements in storm water management mandated by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The cost of implementing the regulations is expected to add $280,000 to the budget. Many of the items such as engineering, inspections and enforcement were usually done by the state, according to Town Attorney Robert O'Toole

Instead of introducing a new fee or budget line for the storm water costs, Demler said he decided to pour them into the sewer budget to save residents over $80 a year each. However, the additional costs would increase the sewer user rate to $1.52 from $1.32 for each $1,000 of assessed property value.

Creating a drainage or storm water district was never an option, Demler said. "I've always intended this to be absorbed into the sewer budget."

A public hearing on the options to cover storm water costs is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Oct. 20.

Charges for collecting garbage are expected to increase to $163 from $135 per property, he said. The town is in its second year of a three-year contract with Modern Disposal Inc. and must pay fuel surcharges.

The increase in fire protection to $1.15 from $1.02 for each $1,000 of assessment is attributed to fuel costs as well as to increased benefits in a new contract with the five volunteer fire companies, according to Demler.

Another cost increase is a 25 percent hike in health insurance costs for employees. Demler said an additional $128,000 was needed to cover the item. He said he plans to propose next year that employees contribute at least 10 percent toward health insurance premiums, which could save the town up to $80,000.

Revenues also were down about $300,000, forcing the town to use about $600,000 in unallocated surplus money to cover all shortfalls in 2008 and $106,000 for 2009, Demler said.

The budget proposal will be discussed with department heads next week with a public hearing planned for Nov. 8. The budget is supposed to be passed by Nov. 20.

e-mail: niagaranews@buffnews.com

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