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Residents fret over budget, likely hike in tax rate

About 40 people gathered to listen and pose worried questions about the proposed Cheektowaga town spending plan with money for higher fuel costs and other expenses that could lead to a tax rate increase of about 3 percent.

For people with houses assessed at $60,000, the average value, it would be a 2.94 percent increase, or an extra $45 added to a current $1,528 bill.

"The homeowners in Cheektowaga are just fed up with these taxes. . . . We just can't afford any more. That's the bottom line," said Gary Brennan, a retired railroad engineer in the audience in Town Hall Tuesday evening. "I see widows on my street alone who are prisoners in their home . . . instead of enjoying their life."

The supervisor, board members and director of finance said they were meeting again at 6 p.m. today to keep looking for cuts in the proposed $79 million budget, which is $2.8 million more than last year. The budget is scheduled for a final vote at 6:45 p.m. Monday.

"It scares me. I'm in business," said Board Member Charlie Markel, who owns a convenience store, of the current economic troubles. "We've gone through the budget as closely as possible and we're not done yet."

Brian Krause, the town director of finance, presented spending details with pie charts and bar graphs projected on a wall screen. He explained that he, the supervisor and board members had already worked to cut about $500,000 in spending since the first tentative budget proposal in September, including:

* Overtime spending has been frozen to last year's level, saving $120,000.

* A highway engineer position worth about $90,000 was cut because existing staff has managed to do the work.

New costs affecting this 2009 budget include higher gas and diesel prices, accounting for an extra $430,000, or a 55 percent increase, compared with this year.

"These are staggering numbers," said Krause. "We obviously need the funds to provide the service."

He and others talked about a new effort to save highway department fuel costs this past spring and summer by having workers eat lunch on the job rather than driving back to Town Hall.

"We can't control the costs of gas and diesel, but we can control the usage of it," Krause said.

People in the audience also worried about the expense of union contracts with planned 2.75 percent raises and expensive health benefits for workers and retirees.

"We're going to do our best to modify things and keep our costs low," said Krause of impending contract negotiations for dispatchers and foremen. An older man called out a series of questions and concerns about cutting the expense of town staff. "Let the employees put something toward the benefits," he said.

Krause was sympathetic. "I appreciate your frustration," he said.

After the meeting was over, resident Lorna Castanik said she was pleased by how board members responded. "A couple were very vocal and I liked that," she said. "It makes me think they're concerned about the citizens."


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