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Amherst Error Update

5:29 PM, Mar 10, 2012   |    comments
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AMHERST, NY- Due to what's being termed by town officials as a "clerical error" by a worker in the town's IT Department, nearly 300 town taxpayers had their water usage mistakenly calculated, which ressulted in sewer fees being doubled on their tax bills.

Since Two On Your Side first reported on the snafu in January, the town says everyone affected has either had their bill readjusted or, for those who paid it, have been reimbursed.

"Yes they have," Town Assessor Harry Williams told WGRZ-TV. "If they haven't it would have been for their own reasons, like maybe them forgetting to pay their tax bill or whatever, but ultimately there should have been no damage."

Though the number of parcels over charged amounted to less than 1% of all the taxable parcels in Amherst, that wasn't the end of the headache for the town, according to Town Councilman Guy Marlette.

"Obviously, since they were overcharged, the assessment roll was incorrect," said Marlette, who noted that this then resulted in many more taxpayers having paid slightly less than they should have.

Although the average amount underpaid was perhaps only a few dollars per parcel...taken a whole... it left quite a hole, in the town's bottom line.

"It comes to about $323, 000," said Marlette.

Because it might well cost the town more than that to recalculate everyone's bill, mail them, and then try and collect such a minimal amount from everyone who was undercharged, it won't be doing that.

Instead the town will transfer money from an existing contingency fund in the budget (which has more than $4 million) to balance its books.

"With a budget of $117 million it's a big mistake, but it's not detrimental to our town or to our finances," said Marlette.

"It's not like we have to go out and hold a bake sale or anything else to make up the difference," agreed Williams. "It is part of what monies we have available."

"This is really the first time something like this has ever happened," said Marlette. 

And though the town would like to think there are enough controls in place to prevent a recurrence, he says with human error being what it is, they can't absolutely guarantee that.

Still, he insisted, "our town has a low tolerance level when it comes to mistakes in how we're taxing."

While Marlette indicates the worker who made the mistake might be subject to reprimand, he doesn't think they'll be dismissed for what he classifies as a one time, inadvertent error.

"Do mistakes happen? Yes. Are mistakes that happen acceptable? Not necessarily...but is someone going to be fired for a one time mistake? I don't think so."

Click on the video player to watch our story from Two On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Norm Fisher from Eden.

Click here to read Dave McKinley's blogs.

WGRZ-TV, wgrz.com

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