WEST SENECA, NY – After a town council meeting on Monday, where roughly 400 residents expressed their dismay with a town budget proposal offering a 12% hike in the property tax, town leaders continue to huddle in an attempt to lower the amount of increase, possibly through service cuts.
However, even if the increase is whittled down to 8%, as at least one town council member suggested it might be, it's still big hike by comparison to what faces residents in neighboring towns faced with some of the same challenges.
Hamburg, with a population of 57,000 residents, is proposing to spend $47 million with the tax rate going up 3%.
Lancaster, home to 42,000 residents, has proposed a $33 million spending plan with a 2% increase in the tax rate.
West Seneca, where the population of 45,000 places it between those two other towns, is proposing a $40 million budget where the tax rate would increase by 12%.
Town leaders in West Seneca insist the proposed tax hike is due to a dramatic rise in the cost of health care and benefits for employees, adding $3 million three in cost to the town.
However, it is also true that West Seneca has many more full employees than the Erie County towns closest to it in population.
Lancaster, according to its Supervisor, has 140 full time employees.
West Seneca, with only 3,000 more residents, has 210.
Even Hamburg, with 12,000 more residents than West Seneca, has five fewer full time employees.
It has led some residents to suggest that beyond the cost of health coverage and other benefits, the real problem is with the sheer number of workers the town employs.
Of particular note is the town’s highway department, where 55 workers are budgeted to receive $300,000 in additional salary, and nearly $600,000 in medical and hospital coverage in the coming year.
“I know this is an unfortunate situation, but when you look at the increased costs of health care and workers compensation, 10% of this increase is in the highway budget,” said Town Supervisor Sheila Meegan.
But with a union contract that calls for minimum staffing levels, town leaders say there’s little wiggle room in terms of the number of department employees.
As well, Council member Eugene Hart says adjusting their benefits also poses challenges.
“The plan we provide, which is the premium, platinum plan, is in their contract which we inherited. And we can’t just go in and change that plan, according to their contract," Hart said.