You can’t argue with a tax cut – and no one did during the hearing on the proposed 2014 Hamburg town budget.
And by the end of Monday evening, Town Board members unanimously adopted a $42.58 million budget that lowers the tax levy by one-half of 1 percent and tax rates by about 1.5 percent.
The big message of the evening was that while spending is up 1 percent over this year, the town plans to spend less next year than it did back in 2007 – $43.17 million in 2007 compared with to $42.58 million for 2014.
This year’s budget is $42.15 million.
One big reason spending went down over recent years is that the town turned over the water system to the Erie County Water Authority, said Wayne Drescher, the town’s accounting consultant.
He said the town spent nearly $1.7 million to repair and maintain water lines in 2007. Since then, the town borrowed money and spent a little over $4 million to fix the lines, then transferred them to the Water Authority.
“Right now we’re spending $329,000 on those lines,” Drescher said, a net savings of more than $1 million a year.
But there were challenges in the budget, Drescher said. Financial aid from New York State is flat, interest income is at the lowest level in many years and revenue from the state for the video lottery terminals at the Hamburg Casino is down more than 43 percent from 2008, he said. It was cut in half , but then increased slightly last year to $680,000.
But if the formula included in the state law setting up the lottery terminals at race tracks were being followed, the town should be getting three times as much, he said.
Payments into the state pension system for employees have stabilized, but still are more than two-and-a-half times higher than seven years ago, he said.
Councilman Joseph Collins asked if the town could do anything to reduce spending.
“I don’t see anything, as I sat here for four years, any plans that cut spending” Collins said.
Drescher said the town has done a lot in the last several years to control costs, such as reducing the number of employees, self-insuring for health care and requiring higher payments for health insurance for new employees. But the reductions have been eaten up in the multimillion-dollar increases in pension payments, he said.
“People don’t see how the good things we’ve done over here are just eaten up by this pension,” Supervisor Steven Walters said.
The Town Board usually waits at least several weeks after the hearing to adopt the budget, but Walters said since there was no opposition at the hearing, the board decided to pass it.
The general and highway fund tax rate for residents living outside the villages would be $9.38 per $1,000 of assessment, down 1.59 percent. Those living in the villages of Hamburg and Blasdell would pay $4.23 per $1,000, down 1.55 percent.