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Moline's budget shows who gets what piece of pie

Leave it to a former teacher to present essentially a "Municipal Budgets for Dummies" primer.

Though his specialty was history -- not economics -- Tonawanda Supervisor Ronald H. Moline has incorporated schematics, pie charts and narrative into annual town budgets.

Take the $80.48 million budget that the Town Board recently adopted for next year.

A schematic anchored by a graphic of a house breaks down the $3.04 in daily costs for an average home assessed at $50,000. The 16 categories of expenses range from a cent a day for economic development to 22 cents for street lighting and 61 cents for garbage pickup and recycling.

The bottom line is a tax bill of $1,111.27 for that average home -- an increase of $41.05.

"I think putting the budget process in terms they can understand . . . like their own household budget, the process becomes friendlier to them," Moline said last week.

"About 15 years ago, in preparing for a public hearing on the budget, it occurred to me that the numbers that we had been presenting to the people really weren't within a context that they could understand and appreciate without the assistance of a calculator," Moline explained.

"I talked to the comptroller and, basically, came up with a format that we have been using now for those 15 years," he continued. "I think the use of schematics . . . and the pie charts make the budget process more intelligible for people."

A pie chart on next year's budget shows the largest piece, 43 percent, going toward personnel services, followed by almost 22 percent for employee benefits.

Another pie chart shows 49 percent of projected revenues coming from property taxes.

After a hearing earlier this month, the board voted, 6-1, to adopt the budget. Only Councilman John E. Donnelly voted against the spending plan, after fellow lawmakers rebuffed his last-minute proposal to add 10 police officers.

Last year, the board voted, 6-1, against the preliminary budget, but it passed by default because no further action was taken before the deadline.

"I was pleased that the Town Board played a more constructive role in this budget process," Moline said. "Quite frankly, the budget process last year was the most challenging of those I have dealt with on the Town Board."

"We were still feeling the effects of the higher health insurance-related costs, which [have] since stabilized because we went to a single provider," Moline said.

The town also faced rising utility and retirement costs.

"Some of those factors stabilized this year, so I think the Town Board felt a little more comfortable with the budget," Moline said.

e-mail: jhabuda@buffnews.com

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