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The tax base in Erie County's largest town is growing again, a year after logging its first decline since World War II.

Harry Williams, town assessor in Amherst, Monday estimated the town's new assessed valuation could be as much as $56 million more than the current figure of $3.94 billion, which is eight-tenths of 1 percent lower than the previous year.

Williams, who spoke at a budget meeting of the Town Board, said the estimate is still preliminary because it doesn't reflect recently increased income levels for senior citizens to qualify for tax exemptions, or the outcome of the annual assessment grievance process.

But he told The Buffalo News that when all the figures are in, the increase is still anticipated to top $50 million. Williams said the new assessed valuation equates to $250,000 to $300,000 in general operating taxes or, other officials said, 8 to 9 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation on Amherst's tax rate of $6.10.

Williams credited new construction, utilities and higher assessments on residential and commercial properties that were under-assessed for the increased valuation. However, one of the major trends in last year's decline -- stagnant or decreasing housing values -- hasn't been reversed, he told The News.

Williams' comments, coupled with reports by two other department heads on potential savings next year, prompted Council Member Williamn L. Kindel to forecast the possibility of Amherst's first tax cut in years.

Personnel Director Patrick R. Pujolas said an early-retirement incentive program could save at least $500,000, while Comptroller Charles E. Vanyo outlined a plan offering up to $750,000 in savings.

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