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Cuts to youth programs fuel crowd at Cheektowaga hearing

The $92.6 million spending plan proposed by Cheektowaga Supervisor Diane Benczkowski received a chilly response from nearly 150 residents who attended a budget hearing Tuesday night.

The budget of $92,639,171 represents a $1,288,838 increase in spending from 2018.

The average homeowner in 2019 would pay an additional $24.66 per $100,000 of assessed value in property taxes.

Complaints targeted cuts in youth programming, cultural programming and highway department spending – particularly the $70,000 purchase of an underused hovercraft. At least one-quarter of the 15 residents who spoke addressed the cut in youth services from $854,395 to $741,171. Many spoke against the decreased funding for Catholic Charities school support programs from $113,845 to $60,000.

Kenneth Kopacz, former executive director of the Youth Board, argued against a proposed cut to Catholic Charities programs.

“One of our school districts in the '70s had the second-highest dropout rate outside the City of Buffalo. Police officers encouraged the town board to implement youth development and delinquency prevention programs. Catholic Charities provided programming.”

Benczkowski pointed out that times have changed and added a personal bent on opioid addiction and teen mental health.

“The police department has been on the cutting edge with our residents who are dealing with mental illness. If anyone should know, I should. I lost my daughter to suicide in March 2017,” the supervisor said. “We’ve found that opioid addiction and mental health crisis are what schoolchildren are dealing with, and the police have not once called Catholic Charities.”

The town also plans to reduce equipment purchases by $448,000, including $225,000 savings after nixing the purchase of a garbage packer truck from the Sanitation and Recycling Department budget, said Brian Krause, the town's director of administration and finance. The line for "Maintenance and Facilities" was reduced by $25,000 in seasonal part-time hours.

Highway payroll for Superintendent Mark Wegner, Deputy Superintendent Charles Markel and secretary Lee Ann Stachura this year totaled $218,821 as compared to last year at $169,742.

“The secretary is a new position, added to the budget line because Wegner eliminated a vacancy and then a 2 percent raise was budgeted for the deputy and new secretary,” said Council member Timothy Meyers. “A 2-percent raise was also budgeted for 15 to 20 nonunion employees.”

Hayden Vogel, who moved to Cheektowaga recently, suggested the renegotiation of labor contracts to prevent excessive overtime costs.

“But my biggest idea is to purchase 100 percent less hovercrafts," he said, referring to a much-criticized purchase the town made. "I understand how someone could think a $70,000 hovercraft would be a fun toy for government employees. I can’t see how someone failed to notice that it could not be used because of DEC regulations. So we were forced to sell the hovercraft which was in mint condition for a big loss. Why was it approved, and how many more do we have sitting around wasting taxpayer money?”

“None of us were here when the hovercraft was purchased in 2011,” said Benczkowski.

The Town Board will review the budget during a work session scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday.

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