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GRELICK BUDGET HOLDS THE LINE ON TAXES

Amherst Supervisor Susan J. Grelick wants to spend $87.2 million running town government next year, virtually the same amount as this year.

Ms. Grelick said she could hold the line on taxes by spending surplus money, raising building permit fees and denying equipment and furniture requests.

"We've made the commitment of no tax-increase budgets since 1995, and we've kept that promise," Ms. Grelick said Tuesday, referring to the tax rate that covers the general, highway, part-town and central fire alarm funds.

For these funds, Ms. Grelick proposes keeping the property tax rate at $5.99 per $1,000 of assessed valuation in the town for a second year.

In the Village of Williamsville, the town rates for its general and central alarm funds would total $6.69 per $1,000.

The tax levies -- the amounts that must be raised by taxes -- for sanitary sewer, storm sewer and water districts are scheduled to increase between about 1 and 3 percent next year in Amherst. Tax levies are down for a majority of lighting districts. And town homeowners would pay $180 next year for garbage collection, the same as this year.

Overall, Ms. Grelick proposed a $58.7 million tax levy for 1999, which is $120,187 more than this year's levy. That is an increase of less than 1 percent.

Officials faced a harder task of putting together next year's budget because the town's tax base has fallen by more than $23 million, said town Comptroller Maureen Cilano.

Ms. Grelick said the town has been earning and saving more through budget reforms enacted this year, cushioning the higher costs of salaries and benefits. By Oct. 8, the town expects to have earned more in interest income in 1998 than in all of 1997, Ms. Grelick said.

Among the highlights of Ms. Grelick's budget proposal:

Two million dollars of the town's current $8.5 million surplus would be spent next year covering expenses, up from the $1.4 million of surplus used for this year's expenses.

Building, plumbing and electrical fees would increase by 10 percent for projects other than single- and two-family homes to cover more of the town's inspection costs.

No new positions would be added to the town's 657 full-time employee roster, and 11 employees so far have opted for early retirement.

Money would be set aside for raises and promotions for town employees while town administrators negotiate contracts with several unions. Elected office holders would not receive a pay raise.

The Police Department would buy 14 marked police cars, six unmarked cars, one chief's car, two motorcycles and a prisoner's van for $351,000, an increase over the $318,000 spent this year on new vehicles.

Some $217,000 in tax dollars would be spent on recreation, parks and planning, including $75,000 to mothball the four-story St. Mary of the Angels motherhouse on land to be acquired by the town; $60,000 for a deer management plan; $140,000 for baseball fields, new playground equipment, two new fields at a girls softball complex and parking lot improvements at the Audubon golf course.

About $90,000 would be spent improving the town's computers, with two-thirds of that amount reserved for the year 2000 upgrade.

Council members said they plan to study Ms. Grelick's budget proposal, and some look to reduce it.

"I think it's partial good news for taxpayers in Amherst," Council Member James P. Hayes said. "Hopefully, this proposal will set us up to do this year what we did last year. Last year, she sent over a hold-the-line budget, and we were able to cut it further."

Hayes added: "It's not enough to just hold the line on taxes. Buffalo and the Western New York region is the highest-taxed region in the country."

A public hearing is scheduled at 7:30 p.m. Monday in Amherst Town Hall to receive residents' comments about the proposal.

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