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RESIDENTS ASK JUSTIFICATION FOR TAX INCREASE

Cheektowaga taxes are expected to go up 2.5 percent next year, and Monday night Cheektowaga residents asked the Town Board why.

Amherst's tentative 1998 budget carries no tax increase, Erie County plans a tax freeze and Orchard Park is expected to see a tax decrease next year, said Alfred Piniarski of The Avenue.

"Why can't we do the same thing?" Piniarski asked during a public hearing on the town's tentative $54,993,149 spending plan.

Taxpayers also complained about raises for town officials next year.

"Why is it that every year the budget comes out, you give yourself a raise?" one woman asked Supervisor Dennis H. Gabryszak. "I can't see these officials getting a raise every year or every second year."

Town Board members refused a pay hike so their salaries will remain at $18,552. Gabryszak's salary, however, would increase to $65,662 from $63,750. He would receive an additional $5,000 for serving as budget director.

Only a handful of residents attended the hearing on the 1998 tentative budget. In fact, there were fewer than 10 taxpayers in the audience.

Cheektowaga's tentative budget would raise taxes 35 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation or about $20 for a taxpayer with a $60,000 home outside the villages of Sloan, Depew or Williamsville. A drop in sales and mortgage-tax revenue contributed to the tax increase.

Gabryszak admitted that the town has raised taxes over the past few years, but the increases have been below the rate of inflation and done to keep the town financially stable.

He added that Cheektowaga has avoided playing the political games that lead to a tax decrease one year and a big tax jump the next.

"You have not seen any big jumps in our tax rate," Gabryszak said.

He also noted that Cheektowaga doesn't have the huge assessment increases that are occurring in towns like Lancaster and that are benefiting the county.

Gabryszak also defended the proposed pay raises. Pay adjustments were made for top management to fix salary inequities within the town's payroll, he said.

The town clerk's salary would increase to $55,000 from $52,000; the highway superintendent's to $65,000 from $60,000; town justices' to $57,282 from $54,157; and the tax receiver's to $49,000 from $46,500. Department heads also would receive raises next year.

Taxpayers also questioned officials about increases for specific departments and money allocated for town consultants. One man asked that the recreational budget include money for Saturday swim lessons.

Gabryszak expects final budget cuts to come soon so the spending plan can be passed at the Town Board's next meeting next Monday. A town law requires the board to adopt a budget before Election Day next Tuesday.

Town officials, who have held a few budget work sessions the past month, expect to lower the 2.5 percent tax rate hike.

"How much I don't know. It's really getting pretty lean," Gabryszak said of the budget after Monday's hearing.

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