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Energy savings helped Amherst end 2015 with surplus

The Town of Amherst ended the 2015 fiscal year on stable footing, thanks in part, to significant savings in energy costs.

In 2015, the town spent $60.5 million of the $61.9 million in revenues it received, leaving a $1.4 million surplus, according to Luke R. Malecki, a partner with Drescher and Malecki, an outside auditing firm, which a made a formal presentation to the Town Board during a work session Monday.

As a result of those favorables, the town ended the year with a general fund surplus that grew to $15.25 million, roughly half, or $7.8 million of which is available for spending at the town’s discretion. That represents about 12 percent of the town’s general fund expenditures for 2015.

“They’re above their policy,” Malecki said of the unassigned portion of the town’s surplus.

“Their policy is to have 10 percent. They’re at about 12 percent of their unassigned fund balance in the general fund, a very stable percentage,” he added.

That’s a significant increase over the 1.42 percent of appropriations that was saved in 2012, representing only $834,094. That figure increased to $6.35 million at the end of 2013, and $6.5 million at the end of 2014, representing about 10.5 percent of the funds the town took in for general fund expenditures in both those years.

Amherst Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein said the significant decrease in reserves in 2012 was a result of a huge legal payout from a 2002 roofing accident at the St. Mary of Angels Motherhouse in Amherst State Park. Roofer Peter E. Bissell of Sanborn was awarded $19.6 million in the case, but the town paid out $23.4 million because of accrued interest.

The town’s insurance carrier covered $10 million of the judgment, and the town borrowed $13.4 million to pay for the rest. A lengthy legal battle ensued to recoup those funds from the roofer’s insurance carrier, the New York State Insurance Fund. After a lengthy legal battle, the state insurance agency agreed to pay out $31 million – $17.8 million to the town, and $10 million to the town’s insurance carrier.

“The money came back in at a profit. So that’s why (the town reserves) went up,” at the end 2013, Weinstein said.

Malecki said the subsequent 2014 and 2015 years were both pretty standard and stable years for the town, in terms of revenues that were taken in and the savings in expenditures. They were largely the benefit of the cost savings in utility, gas and oil expenditures, as well as some savings in employee retirement and fire and police retirement expenditures.

“There also were unexpected windfalls in mortgage taxes and sales tax receipts, some positive swings in the revenue that put the more recent future – 2013 to 2015 – in a more stable light,” Malecki said.