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Cost-cutting plan's chilly reception prompts action

Amherst Town Board members held a special meeting Monday to turn up the heat in town-owned buildings and turn down an unpopular effort to save money on energy bills.

The goal was to cut building temperatures two degrees, from 70 to 68, and reap some energy savings, according to Council Member Deborah Bucki, who came up with the cost-cutting idea last month.

But as soon as rooms cooled -- especially at Town Hall and at Amherst's Senior Citizens Center -- officials began hearing from shivering workers.

"It was a feeling. People were saying it was too cold," Bucki said.

Some did more than grumble.

In one Town Hall office, workers placed damp cloths over the thermostat to "fool" it into demanding more heat, officials said. Others closed office doors that are normally open, hoping to slow down a new wind chill coming from air vents.

"This is government at its worst," Council Member William A. O'Loughlin complained after Monday's vote to raise the temperatures in town buildings back to 70 degrees.

O'Loughlin, the board's liaison to the Senior Citizens Center, took it upon himself last week to order the center's staff to raise the temperature and comfort level for seniors.

O'Loughlin also let it be known that he would offer a new resolution to exempt the senior citizens center from the lower temperatures.

That prompted Bucki to fire off a memo accusing him of opposing a "common-sense effort" to ease the burden on taxpayers: "Vocal resistance from a determined few -- led by Council Member O'Loughlin -- threatens the success of this tax-cutting strategy, just weeks after its implementation."

After consulting with other town officials, Bucki agreed to offer her own resolution to "immediately set daytime thermostat settings to a temperature not greater than 70 degrees Fahrenheit" and weekend and night readings to "not greater than 65 degrees." The measure also applies to all buildings using town funds for utilities.

While that should make many Amherst employees happy, there's a problem: Building custodians cannot raise Town Hall temperatures immediately because the computer that runs the system does not work and must be replaced, said Assistant Building Commissioner Robert F. Danni. And, to make matters worse, funds for a replacement computer were cut from the budget, he said.

e-mail: tdolan@buffnews.com

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