West Seneca, NY - The West Seneca Town Board faced a firestorm of pointed questions and criticism from taxpayers over its projected budget but some members now say the tax hike may be lowered below 8 percent instead of the original 12 percent figure.
That follows their second budget hearing which drew hundreds of taxpayers to the West Seneca High School on Monday night.
Taxpayers pelted the board and supervisor with questions about town expenses and why the board allowed them to get to a point requiring such an increase. Taxpayers say the board members stated there would have be a reduction of $2.9 million in costs to avoid the 12 percent increase.
The board members cited town employee health care costs as the biggest driving force. The costs had climbed from 4 million dollars in recent years up to 7 million dollars or more. The Board says they are looking at trying to reduce costs in some ongoing town labor contract negotiations.
Board members say they can look at reductions with a ban on non-emergency overtime and less hours for the town's diving pool and ice rink. There is also the idea of reducing hours for leaf collection by the town.
Despite those suggested cuts, resident Chris Kotowski says he compiled a detailed analysis of the town workforce in comparison with other towns. He says "Basically West Seneca is bloated. It's spends 2.5 times more in employee salaries than the next comparable population town which is Lancaster."
We asked Supervisor Sheila Meegan if the town's workforce is bloated. Her response "I don't think so. I really don't. I personally know that the white collar used to be about 63 staff members and they're down to 39." Meegan says staffing for the police department is also reduced from past years. The board also contends salaries are locked in by employee union contracts.
Meegan was asked by a taxpayer if she would be willing to give back her controversial nine thousand salary increase approved last year. She said it would not happen and feels her current salary is justified.
Councilmember Eugene Hart says they will take cost cutting into account before final budget approval. And as for the tax increase, "Depending on what we decide to cut I think we can get it down to in the area of...I'll say conservatively eight percent. I'm hoping it will be lower than that based on what I'm looking at in the numbers right now."
But Hart warns again there could also be reductions in services for town residents.
Councilmember William Hanley says he cannot support any tax increase for the town.
The town board could vote on the budget at its next meeting set for Monday, November 13th.