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Town Board members fault Mohan's budget proposal

Amherst Town Board members laid out a long litany of concerns regarding Supervisor Satish B. Mohan's proposed $115.7 million budget for 2009.

They raised objections to the supervisor's recommended personnel cuts and questioned the accuracy of his projected revenues and expenses.

"It's a fairy tale worthy of Harry Potter," Council Member Mark A. Manna said of the budget document. "It looks, on first glance, that he has overestimated revenues and underestimated expenses."

Mohan's budget would whittle town spending by $11,500. It would also reduce the tax levy -- the overall amount of money the town needs to raise in taxes -- by 0.55 percent, from $72.8 million in 2008 to $72.4 million in 2009.

The proposal would raise revenue through higher recreation and permit fees. It would also eliminate 25 vacant positions and lay off four people, including two high-ranking administrators.

The 2009 budget would use nearly $5.7 million in town savings, or fund balance, compared with $6.5 million in this year's budget.

Council Member Guy R. Marlette said that while he supports a zero-growth budget, he does not support the proposed layoffs, nor does he think it's appropriate for Mohan to add several new jobs to the budget when he's making so many other personnel cuts.

"Managing the budget is not about the bottom line, about saying 'I did this. I did that,' " Marlette said. "Managing the budget is about the future of Amherst. If we cut too deeply or too quickly, and our ability to deliver services suffer, we are going to hear it from the residents."

Council members who were interviewed Friday said they have serious concerns about handing out pink slips.

"I don't think anyone should lose their jobs," said Council Member Deborah Bruch Bucki, who advocates personnel reductions through attrition and voluntary retirements.

The four targeted layoffs include the town's planning director and assistant building commissioner, as well as a highway crew chief and a geographic information system analyst. Mohan said he wants to consolidate the town's Planning and Building departments.

He also wants to fill several new positions, including a civil engineer, a business manager and a purchasing director.

Council Member Barry A. Weinstein said he was worried that the town would spend down too much of its fund balance. The spending of $5.7 million in town savings will be unsustainable in future years, he said.

He also said the town should seriously consider borrowing money to lease, and eventually buy, new equipment for the Highway Department. In Mohan's budget proposal for next year, all new equipment purchases have been eliminated.

Weinstein said that during tight economic times, it's unreasonable for the town to pay for all major equipment purchases out of its operating budget.

e-mail: stan@buffnews.com

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