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Amherst board members intend to use sewer fund surplus to pay for pay raises

The Amherst Town Board will not have to increase taxes in next year’s budget to cover nearly $100,000 in salary increases proposed for the town’s elected officials.

Instead, a bipartisan majority of board members are likely to approve using surplus funds from a town sewer account pay for the raises.

Democratic Councilwoman Ramona D. Popowich is behind the measure, and she has bipartisan support on the five-member Town Board. Republican Steven Sanders and Democrat Francina Spoth are both co-sponsors of the proposal, which will be presented as an amendment to Town Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein’s 2017 budget proposal.

“This amendment finds an alternative source, other than raising taxes, to fund the pay increases,” Sanders said.

Sanders in September introduced an amendment that called for a $1,300 annual pay raise for the Town Clerk’s position. Sanders’ amendment, which was approved in a 3-2 bipartisan vote, directed the supervisor to include annual salary increases for all elected officials in the town, raising each of the four part-time council members’ pay to $35,000 from $25,000 and the supervisor’s pay to $105,000 from $75,000.

The amendment called for raising the Town Clerk’s pay by $15,700 a year to $82,000, while increasing the Highway Superintendent’s annual salary by $3,000 to $100,000 and each of the Town Justices’ salaries by $5,300 annually to $102,000.

Weinstein, a Republican, and Democrat Deborah Bruch Bucki both voted against the pay raises, which Weinstein vowed not to include in his 2017 preliminary budget. As a result, the new amendment will be introduced Monday to be included in the tentative budget by the Town Board.

“We all know this is a very controversial topic,” Sanders said.

“Lots of people get very excited about it, and seem to oppose raises for elected officials. I hear all sorts of arguments for why there shouldn’t be raises, but the fact of the matter is nobody takes a position assuming that there is never going to be a raise in this position. If you never increase the salary, you’re going to fall behind the market rate of this position, whatever that is,” Sanders added.

Bucki, in a phone interview, said she would not be disposed to using money from a sewer fund account to pay for the raises.

“That’s taking money away that could have been used for some sewer function. Heaven knows, we need a lot of work on our town sewers,” Bucki said.

Sanders said the aim in using money from a fund balance account was to ensure the raises would not have a negative effect on the tax levy, which already is slated to increase 2.44 percent to nearly $73.4 million under Weinstein’s preliminary proposal. That called for town taxes to go up for the first time in six years after successive nominal tax decreases.

“Overall, there will be no change in the tax levy because of this amendment,” Sanders said.

The Town Board will hold the first of three public hearings on the budget at 7 p.m. Monday during the board’s regular business meeting in Council Chambers of Town Hall, 5583 Main St., Williamsville.


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