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BOARD ADOPTS $95 MILLION BUDGET, SMALL TAX INCREASE

In an election year, the Amherst Town Board adopted a $95 million budget Monday that relies on $6 million in one-shot revenues and increases taxes -- for general and highway fund as well as special districts -- by less than 1 percent.

Overall, the spending plan was little changed from the one Supervisor Susan J. Grelick proposed early this month.

The general fund and highway budgets increase only 3.29 percent, while the tax levy rises 5.11 percent. The tax rate for general fund and highway will go up by an estimated 2.30 percent.

When special districts -- for such things as water, sewers and lighting -- are included, the budget calls for about $425,000 in new taxes, translating to about $10 in additional taxes for a resident with a home assessed at $125,000, officials said. That overall tax increase is less than 1 percent.

The board passed the spending plan in a two-hour special meeting after tinkering with the numbers in an attempt to chip away at the tax increase.

Two of the seven board members, William L. Kindel and Daniel J. Ward, also strongly objected to Grelick's reliance on one-shot revenues, but they repeatedly were outvoted.

"It's a fair budget. It basically holds the line on taxes," Grelick said following the meeting.

Grelick, who had described the budget as the leanest she had presented since taking office in 1996, maintained a comfortable 5-2 majority throughout the voting.

Kindel, Grelick's Republican opponent in next Tuesday's election, read a prepared statement calling it "a budget built on fantasy," and Ward chimed in, describing the budget as "fraudulent" because it is balanced with $6 million in long-awaited federal grant money that has been promised to the town.

Grelick repeatedly has assured the board that federal environmental officials are expected to release the grant in the near future to reimburse the town for improvements made to the Amherst wastewater treatment plant two decades ago.

Following the meeting, she again said she has "no doubt that we'll receive (the money) . . . any day, any hour."

The Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, which forced the evacuation of the New York Region office of the Environmental Protection Agency offices in lower Manhattan, delayed release of the funds, officials said.

According to Kindel, Grelick has created a budget "with an IOU," because the town has no guarantee of receiving the grant.

But several others disputed that.

Council Member Jane S. Woodward noted that many of the revenues used in the budget are not yet in hand.

"If you're looking for guarantees, then we're all in the wrong business, she said.

Town Comptroller Lawrence Southwick Jr. had urged board members to protect the town's favorable credit rating by not raiding the budget surplus of about $21 million.

Board members, nonetheless, took about $100,000 from the sanitary sewer fund balance to reduce the impact of higher costs.

e-mail: tdolan@buffnews.com

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