A proposed increase of 12 percent in West Seneca's property taxes didn't sit well Monday night with a capacity crowd of more than 150 residents that filled Council Chambers.
With a line of at least 60 residents standing in line outside Town Hall waiting to get in, the Town Board got an earful from residents upset about the tentative 2018 town budget of $40.2 million.
"I think it's exorbitantly unfair to just tell people you're getting a 12 percent increase," said Molly Amigone. "To go from zero to 12 where the median income here is $49,000 a year is completely, utterly unfair and unjust."
Before the public hearing, town officials had tried to put the increase into perspective — noting town taxes account for only $1,130 of the $5,078 the average West Seneca homeowner pays in property taxes. More than half is school taxes.
A 12 percent increase would add $135 to the tax bill for the owner of an average home in the town, which has a fair market value of $150,000, said Luke R. Malecki, of the Drescher & Malecki accounting firm.
Over the years, town officials depleted the town's fund balance, pushed off tax increases and hoped for a windfall that never came, Malecki said, noting department heads have cut their departments to "a level of scarcity."
Now, he said, the town must decide between raising taxes or cutting services, where there are limited options due to contractual obligations.
Malecki's presentation was cut short as residents clamored for a chance to have their say.
Town Supervisor Sheila M. Meegan took the brunt of most of the residents' criticism, many of whom pointed out that Meegan received a hefty salary raise in last year's budget.
"This Town Board has failed to manage the finances of this town," said Bill Clark. "You've pointed fingers at everyone else but yourselves. You can't just spend money recklessly and let the taxpayers pay for it."
Meegan said the tax increase is mainly due to less reliance on the fund balance, mandated health insurance increases and capital investment in new roads.
"We as a board have actively, and made the promise to take care of what has been neglected for years, and now these bills are coming due," she said. "Unfortunately, it's a tough budget. I'm not saying it's not."
Health insurance costs for employees are projected to reach $6.5 million in 2018, nearly double the level of $3.5 million in 2011.
The town's blue-collar union, CSEA Local 815, objected to town officials singling out employees' benefits as a reason for the tax increase. The union and town have worked cooperatively on the issue, the local's Executive Board said in a statement handed out before the hearing.
Many residents who spoke during the hearing asked that the town find ways to save on health insurance costs as it negotiates a new contract with the union.
The public hearing was adjourned and will continue Oct. 30 at 6 p.m. in the Senior Center.
The budget presentation is to be posted on the town's website Tuesday, Meegan said.