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GRELICK'S BUDGET PLAN INCLUDES NO TAX HIKE

Amherst Supervisor Susan J. Grelick, a Democrat seeking re-election, filed a $51.3 million budget Tuesday that keeps the tax rate at $6.10 per $1,000 of assessed valuation in the town for a fourth straight year.

In the Village of Williamsville, the town rates for its general and central alarm funds total $6.77 per $1,000.

The tax rate covers the general, highway, part-town and central fire-alarm funds.

Despite that proposal, a tax cut appears possible next year because three Town Board members insisted that isn't good enough.

The town comptroller, meanwhile, warned against election-year budgeting that could force future boards to play fiscal catchup.

"True tax reduction can only be obtained through elimination, not reduction (because) reductions serve a temporary purpose and usually have a way of popping back up," Comptroller Charles E. Vanyo cautioned in a budget message to the Town Board.

With her budget, Ms. Grelick included a package of proposed fiscal reforms, which she said are mostly suggestions by the town's outside auditors over the past two or three years that the Town Board "never acted on."

Amherst has reduced its tax rate just once in this decade -- by one cent per $1,000 valuation in 1994. Despite holding at $6.10 for three straight years, the rate is still 26 percent higher than it was in 1990, an average increase of 2.85 percent.

The supervisor's spending plan now goes to the full Town Board for a month of review and the chance for Republicans to make good on claims they can reduce taxes without reducing services.

The board, with its 4-3 GOP majority, will have the final say on the budget that's adopted in November, and all four Republicans are up for election.

The board in June unanimously pledged not to increase general operating taxes next year, and Ms. Grelick's budget keeps that pledge.

However, with Tuesday's budget deadline looming, GOP Council Members Jane S. Woodward and James P. Hayes, along with their Nov. 4 running mate, Robert C. Simmons, upped the ante Monday, calling on Ms. Grelick to submit a general fund tax cut. The three candidates said "a practical and responsible tax-cut budget" is possible by tapping opportunities in seven areas.

Also Monday, Council Member William L. Kindel, GOP candidate for supervisor, announced his plan to cut taxes, saying "a no-tax-increase budget for 1998 is not good enough." Kindel proposed a hiring freeze, not replacing people taking early retirement, and reducing every department's contractual and equipment budget to achieve the goal.

In her budget message Tuesday, Ms. Grelick said that although her budget "demands that our department heads continue to do more with less (and) and that they think ahead to the future," the town "cannot afford election year posturing -- calls for tax cuts without serious consideration of how those cuts will affect quality of services and long-term town financial stability.

"We do not want to approach our budget with slash and burn tactics that assault our youth programs, our senior programs, our parks and needed equipment for the police. And we certainly do not want to throw the taxpayer a tax-cut bone, only to realize that the following year will take a tax hike to balance the books. That would be a fraud on the taxpayer," Ms. Grelick wrote.

The supervisor said her spending plan has "no extras, no frills, no additions, with one notable exception -- our Police Department." She said more than $500,000 extra is budgeted "to make our police equipment state of the art" and to buy 16 new police cars.

Vanyo, the comptroller, cautioned against election-year budget cuts.

"A stabilized expense base would be a perfect situation to have no tax increase. Unfortunately, our expense base is anything but stable," he told the Town Board, noting rising wages and fringe benefits each year, coupled with other uncontrollable expenses, such as utilities and insurance.

Amherst surrendered much of its ability to hold down taxes a long time ago "when services such as recreation, youth, museum, senior services, etc. were added to the basic services required (of) the town," Vanyo said. "The burden of these extra services" will continue to grow more costly with demands that they not only be maintained, but be improved and expanded, he asserted.

"The use of surplus funds will provide a temporary patch," but "our reserve of surplus . . . is not endless. You don't have to be an accountant to realize that you can't continue to expend three times more in surplus than you are adding back," Vanyo told the board.

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