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No general town tax for Wheatfield

by jmaloni
Thu, Nov 18th 2010 03:00 pm
Wheatfield residents lined up on Monday to protest the proposed general town tax.
Wheatfield residents lined up on Monday to protest the proposed general town tax.
Story and photo by Susan Mikula Campbell

The Wheatfield Town Board approved an $11.18 million budget for 2011 on Monday night without the proposed general town tax, with library funding and with only a few non-union raises.

It was another full house for the board in terms of public attendance as residents lined up to argue against instituting a general tax, despite the town's deficit.

The final budget included about $70,000 in new cuts in appropriations and the addition of $300,000 in as-yet unconfirmed revenue from sales tax, based on the fact that the latest census shows a big increase in population for Wheatfield, which will result in it getting a bigger piece of the county sales tax pie. The highway tax, instituted last year, remains in place.

The final effect on taxpayers, according to figures provided by Budget Director Edward Mongold, will be a small total tax decrease. When the highway fund, sewer fund, fire protection district and garbage district are added together, the tax levy on a typical home assessed at $125,000 will decrease about 2 percent or $12.30 to a total of $603.60.

Supervisor Bob Cliffe said the reason he was reluctant to include a big increase in sales tax revenue in his budget was "because it's not guaranteed."

He also was concerned that the budget as approved does not do anything to fix the three-year deficit left by the previous administration, estimated at about $700,000. Moody's already reduced the town's bond rating this year, and it will be tougher and more expensive for the town to borrow money in the future.

"It would be nice to get rid of this problem," he said of the deficit, "but people simply don't want this tax."

The board did vote that if sales tax revenue should exceed $300,000, any extra funds would go to the deficit.

Councilman Larry Helwig suggested two areas for the town to investigate for further funds that could be applied to the deficit.

First, he noted that Time Warner has paid town franchise fees by mistake for this year for the homes on Shawnee Road that were previously paid to Pendleton and North Tonawanda.

"They owe us for about five years," he said. "We need to get to the table pretty quick."

A second possible area to investigate would be the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The town spent about $70,000 to have the number of properties on FEMA's new flood plain maps reduced from about 900 homes to less than 300. Technically, if a municipality wins a reversal against FEMA, legal fees should be reimbursed. "The only problem is they didn't fund it," Helwig said.

Before voting on the final budget, the board voted on three proposals that changed its previous preliminary budget. The first was a list of items that both decreased and increased estimated revenues for a total net increase of $19,400. The second eliminated a purchase of a new truck for the Water/Sewer Department. The third eliminated most of the raises that the public loudly objected to at the last budget meeting.

The 3 percent raises granted to union employees will not go to the supervisor and board, town clerk, highway superintendent, department heads, appointed officials and other part-time employees.

Councilman Art Gerbec voted against the third proposal, saying that all non-contracted 3 percent raises should be dropped. "I don't think this does enough," he said. "I think we all need to take a cut."

Prior to the voting, town residents lined up to ask that the board drop the idea of starting a new general town tax. Several also took pot shots at the three board members who were in office under the previous administration, asking why they didn't stop the overspending by asking where the money was coming from and going to.

"It was your responsibility to check figures and see what was going on," one resident said, noting that he might consider running for the board himself.

Local businessmen Christopher Haick and Chad Cornell had analyzed the budget and earlier presented their findings to the board. Haick emphasized that the town could expect $300,000 to $700,000 more in sales tax due to the increase in population in the town.

Haick, a CPA, spoke at the meeting, saying that starting a new general fund tax that the town has never had will "start the process of killing the goose that laid the golden egg."

"We can't afford it. We don't want it," he said to applause from the audience.

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