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Spending set to go down as budget gains approval of all

The Amherst Town Board unanimously approved a $115.2 million budget for next year that would reduce spending by $672,315, or 0.6 percent, lower taxes slightly and maintain services.

The tax levy -- the overall amount the town collects in property taxes -- would decrease by nearly $1.4 million, or 1.9 percent.

Board members were very complimentary of the "fantastic" budget, which passed speedily and with little controversy.

"I think you've done a fine job," Council Member Mark A. Manna told Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein.

"Overall, this is a very realistic budget," said Council Member Steven D. Sanders.

Monday, the board approved a budget amendment that restored some money to the Police Department, the Building and Engineering departments, and the sewer plant, resulting in slightly lower savings and tax reductions than proposed.

Weinstein attributed the overall budget reductions to several factors, including the restructuring of the town's garbage contract, the loss of multiple personnel positions and a reduction of health insurance costs through the use of an insurance broker.

The spending plan would eliminate at least eight full-time positions through attrition, including some currently vacant, and use $5.3 million in reserves while maintaining healthy savings well in excess of the thresholds, Weinstein said.

Positions being cut in the budget include the vacant purchasing director, whose responsibilities the supervisor has assumed; a town planner; a deputy town clerk; a Town Board position, abolished by voters last year; a fire dispatcher; and individual positions in the Recreation and Highway departments.

Depending on whether the board agrees to sell off its compost facility, six additional positions there may be eliminated, Weinstein said, possibly through layoffs.

The budget also assumes some revenue increases from sales and mortgage taxes, as well as Building Department revenue.

The town anticipates $500,000 in health insurance savings for retirees by switching to a different health insurance provider, Weinstein said. The board will hold a special meeting Friday afternoon to discuss a change in providers from Independent Health to BlueCross BlueShield.

Anticipated spending rose by $800,000 for pensions and by $500,000 for workers' compensation. Town golf course revenue is projected to decline, Weinstein said.

Weinstein declined to say whether the town budgeted any raises for its employees, stating that union negotiations are continuing. All five of the town's unions are working under expired contracts, and two are at an impasse.

He did clarify, however, that no money was added to an employee reserve fund for retroactive wages for the Civil Service Employees Association, the town's largest union.

The board's budget approval included $11.1 million in capital spending, covering the upcoming construction projects and includes $10.1 million in long-term borrowing.