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Non-union seasonal staff expected to cut golf costs

Full-time union employees will no longer make up the majority of town workers cutting the grass at Amherst's three municipal golf courses.

In an effort to control rising golf course expenses and give the town a better shot at breaking even on its money-losing golf operations, the town will soon be hiring non-union seasonal employees to take over most mowing operations at Amherst's 18-hole Audubon course, as well as the Par 3 and Oakwood courses.

The change reflects a significant concession by the Amherst Highway Employees Association.

"We wanted to keep our guys working and make sure the golf course is sustainable," said AHEA Vice President Mike Persico.

Council Member Guy Marlette said that with this change and other adjustments, he hopes the town will save about $100,000 this year in golf course-related personnel costs. He gave the union credit for working with the town on the matter.

As previously reported, Amherst's three taxpayer-supported golf courses have lost nearly $1 million since 2009 despite major efforts to make the courses more profitable.

Marlette, chairman of the Golf Oversight Committee, met with union leadership to seek personnel cost reductions associated with golf course maintenance.

He said it was unrealistic for the town to pay highway workers $24 to $26 an hour to cut grass when part-time and seasonal employees could be hired to do the same work for $8 to $10 an hour.

Full-time highway department workers would be better off doing the type of skilled maintenance work they are most needed for, such as sand trap and bunker rebuilding, and mechanical work, he said. At the same time, more seasonal workers could be hired to address golfer complaints about inadequate course grooming.

Union leaders said they recognized that with golf course maintenance staff whittled down by half over the years, change was needed. The threat of possible Audubon golf course closure was also a factor, they said.

"It was in everybody's interest to see it succeed," said AHEA President Steve Floss of the difficult decision.
The agreement came last week.

In other news, during Monday's Town Board meeting, the board:

*Voted 5-1 to approve a rezoning proposal that would allow for the construction of a single-story, 4,500 square-foot office building on a .66 acre parcel at the northwest corner of Sheridan Drive and Country Parkway that is currently zoned as single-family residential.

*Supported a resolution by Supervisor Barry Weinstein to ask Erie County to take temporary ownership of the brownfield at 1815 Eggert Road so that it can petition the state Department of Environmental Conservation to clean up the property.

*Approved the borrowing of a $3.1 million bond for various upgrades and overhauls to the town's aging and expensive sewage treatment plant.