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Town freezes hiring, will pursue consolidating services

As part of an assault on spending, the Orchard Park Town Board on Wednesday agreed to put a freeze on hiring for 2009 and to talk with neighboring towns about consolidating services.

The board is looking to cut $319,000 in new spending from next year's tentative budget, which carries a property tax rate increase of 1.5 percent for town residents and 1.06 percent in the village.

Councilman Mark Dietrick started the budget discussion saying he would give up his town-provided health insurance starting Jan. 1, a savings of about $15,000.

"I believe as Town Board members we are symbolic in our leadership," he said. The move puts him in step with the other three part-time board members, who use coverage from other jobs.

The board will instruct department heads that any replacement of full-time positions will face a review. Hires that are already in the pipeline should not be affected, Councilman David Kaczor said.

The board also decided to push departments to find ways to cut overtime costs, which total nearly $500,000. With the economy signaling that tax revenues will fall, "next year I think is going to be extremely tough," Kaczor said.

Grant writer Lucy Curley told the board that grants of $100,000 per municipality are available to help pay costs related to consolidation of services, such as severance for affected workers. To benefit, the town should make agreements with neighboring governments by Dec. 10.

The board also heard opposition to a state rail-to-trail plan for a section of Buffalo & Pittsburgh Railroad tracks through the town and to the town-provided prekindergarten program that competes with existing providers.

The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has petitioned for a rail-to-trail conversion for a 28-mile section of track from Orchard Park to West Valley in Cattaraugus County. The Buffalo & Pittsburgh plans to abandon the unused tracks and pull them up for scrap.

Resident Greg Tomani told the board that he has collected more than 200 signatures against the trail. Residents whose yards adjoin the railway are concerned about strangers hiking through a secluded area near their homes.

"We bought our property specifically because we wanted a private backyard," he said.

But Anne Bregantz, of Erie Cattaraugus Rail Trail, said her canvassing of one street found that only four of 21 people opposed the trail. The non-profit group would step in to manage the trail if the state prevails in keeping the rail corridor from being sold off to private owners.

Nancy W. Ware, president of EduKids, objected to the town Recreation Department launching a prekindergarten program that she said undercuts her program and 14 other private-sector providers.

"I don't think it's fair I'm paying my taxes to have someone compete with me," Ware said.

Town Board members said they would seek more information from the Recreation Department about whether the town program adds to existing services.

"If this is equal, we don't belong in this business," Councilwoman Nancy Ackerman said.


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