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It fired its first shots at Amherst's widely controversial ice rink project, raising 4,000 signatures in a vain attempt to force a referendum next month on the $18 million venture.

Now, the Amherst Taxpayers Group says it has even bigger game in its cross hairs -- local taxes.

"We're going after the school board(s) first because they're the worst when it comes to taxes," Edith McBride, treasurer, said Thursday night as about two dozen supporters crowded into a classroom in the Harlem Road Community Center for a general strategy session.

And just how does an organization that's only a few months old think it can lower school, town and maybe even county taxes?

"By getting more people active, by forming committees, by getting people elected to office, by getting on the inside where we can accomplish our goals," Ms. McBride replied.

"We want to get rid of this apathy among taxpayers that they can't change things for the better because they can," said the group's president and one of its founders, Robert L. Bush. "There is great strength in numbers, just ask any politician," he said.

The two taxpayer leaders said the group doesn't plan to make endorsements for the upcoming election, but will become more involved in town government affairs. "We've made a five-year commitment to ourselves," Ms. McBride said.

Taxes need to come down -- "that's what we're all about," Ms. McBride said.

"Holding the line isn't good enough. We're still the highest taxed in the country. The businesses won't come in and the kids are leaving," she declared.

The taxpayer group has already gotten one of its own in public office, Ms. Bride and Bush said, pointing to Ken Smith, elected last spring to the Williamsville School Board.

"And you should hear how he's vilified, insulted, put down every time he (Smith) opens his mouth (at School Board meetings); it's sickening," Ms. McBride said.

"We have to get more on the School Board to force them to listen," Bush said. "They're so, so arrogant, they don't listen. They don't represent the taxpayers, they represent the teachers," he fumed.

Critics charge the taxpayers group is made up mainly of older people who, now that their own children are grown, are bent on slashing school budgets and compromising the educations of others.

Ms. McBride denies that. "The school kids are still going to get a good education, maybe a better education, and at a cheaper cost. Kids go away to college now, they spend the first year doing remedial work, basic stuff they should already have learned.

"We want a better curriculum so that the kids are getting the education we're all paying for but they aren't getting," she said.

Bush and Ms. McBride said people interested in joining the group can look for meeting notices in local newspapers, or write to: Amherst Taxpayers Group, P.O. Box 15, Williamsville 14221.

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