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Packed agenda and farewells await at Amherst board's year-end meeting

Amherst Town Board members -- who meet Monday for the last time this year -- have an agenda crammed with items ranging from new labor agreements with union workers to the purchase of two dozen new vehicles for a handful of town departments.

Monday's meeting will be the last for two key board members who lost in the November election: Supervisor Susan J. Grelick and Council Member Jane S. Woodward. Both have led the board during a decade marked by controversial decisions.

And, while the year-end meeting often affords Town Board members an opportunity to clean up old business, Monday's agenda could set a record, observers say. "I call it lame duck hysteria. I'm certain that they are going to try and get done everything that they can," said Council Member Daniel J. Ward.

The agenda includes:

*Ratification votes on proposed labor contracts with highway, clerical and central alarm service personnel.

Officials say the town will save $2.5 million a year with a new provision calling for a single provider of health insurance. But Town Supervisor-elect Satish B. Mohan is warning that Amherst cannot afford the contracts.

*A controversial agreement to buy the town's 8,500 street lights and to hire a Kansas City, Mo., company to run the lighting system. The board approved the agreement in August, but lawmakers have yet to agree on how to pay the $10.3 million purchase price.

*A revamped zoning code, including a provision granting the town planning director the power to approve some small housing developments without seeking board approval.

"It's going to be exhausting, but I think the meeting will go fast," Council Member William L. Kindel said.

Woodward, sponsor of the lighting system proposal, has filed two resolutions for the meeting: one calling for a new vote on a proposed $12.3 million bond issue to purchase the lights; and one calling for the town to cancel the agreement with Custom Lighting Services of Missouri, which was expected to manage the system for Amherst.

Supporters say the lighting buyout will save an estimated $800,000 a year, while critics say town officials signed the proposal in haste and the town could face large hidden costs when compared with the existing arrangement. They are also calling for an independent expert to review the contract with Custom Lighting.

"I'm even more concerned after meeting with the company Wednesday," Council Member Shelly Schratz said. "I was shocked to find out there is a contract clause saying that if the town does not move forward, it will cost the town $1,280,000."

Mohan has warned that the union contracts will tie his hands when it comes to cutting costs.

One example: a $25 increase in the $300 clothing allowance for all 250 members of the Civil Service Employees Association, many of whom hold desk jobs.

But Kindel and others predict that, despite Mohan's opposition, the labor agreements are likely to pass, allowing the town to start claiming an estimated $2.5 million in annual savings for health insurance.

"I think it's a good deal for the town," he said. "I've looked it over, and it's a good deal for the workers."
e-mail: tdolan@buffnews.com1

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