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West Seneca Town Board passes budget with 8.6 percent increase in tax rate

West Seneca residents have been telling Town Board members for weeks that a proposed 12 percent tax rate increase is not fair, shows poor management and is just too much money to pay.

Town Board members listened Monday night — making changes to the budget that brought the combined tax increase down to 8.6 percent.

But that wasn't enough for the near-capacity crowd in Town Hall.

Shouts of complaint came from residents, who were unhappy they did not get a chance to comment before the $50 million budget was adopted in a 2-1 vote.

Residents also disrupted the meeting for several moments, yelling comments and chanting.

The tax increase amounts to $97.41 on the tax bill for the average home in the town with a market value of $150,000, according to the Town Board.

The combined highway and general fund tax rate will be $20.47 per $1,000 of assessed value.

While some residents thought the new library and community center was responsible for increasing taxes, the debt on the center will account for about $9 of a total average tax bill, according to town officials.

Taxes still might be too high for Al and Judy Hoffmann, who are trying to sell a family member's house. They said they got a lot of traffic since it went on the market on Oct. 1, but as soon as the proposed 12 percent tax hike came out, they have not heard back from prospective buyers.

"They came right out and said, 'We love the house, we love the area - but the 12 percent,'" Judy Hoffmann said.

The Town Board took about $1 million off the tax levy by cutting spending and increasing revenues. Proposals included cutting part-time workers in the Recreation Department, cutting hours at Bicentennial Pool, reducing the repair and maintenance to the library, reducing the allotment for health insurance, decreasing the highway snow removal budget and health insurance costs.

"We will open the pool for less hours," Councilman Gene Hart said.

He also said that health insurance could be reduced slightly because "things are going better this year."

The Town Board held two public hearing sessions last month lasting nearly two hours, one drawing more than 150 people to Town Hall, the other attracting more than 400 to West Seneca West High School. Town Supervisor Sheila M. Meegan said 65 people spoke.

Hart and former Councilman Dale Clarke got into a heated debate over who was responsible for raising taxes.

Board members noted that if the budget with the 8.6 percent tax increase did not pass and no other changes were adopted, the proposed budget with a 12 percent raise would go into effect Nov. 20.

Councilman William P. Hanley said he has never voted for a tax increase in the four years he has been on the board, and he did not on Monday.

"I believe there are some efficiencies we can do here," Hanley said.

Each $220,000 accounts for about 1 percent on the tax rate.

Mandated cost of payments to the pension system for workers has almost doubled since 2010 to $3 million.

Expanding health care costs and the cost of repairing town roads and infrastructure were blamed for much of the increase in the general and highway taxes.

Health insurance was expected to reach more than $6 million next year, 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 amended budget reduces health insurance by $240,000.

With a cost of $100,000 per lane mile, it would cost $11.9 million to repair the town's 119 miles of roads.

The proposed budget allocated enough money to repair about 10 lane miles next year, more than double the amount in this year's budget for road repair. But a change to reduce the tax levy reduced the repair budget by $235,000.

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