Advocates of the Town of Amherst’s Police Department and Youth and Recreation Department warned Wednesday of noticeable weakening in recreation programming and public safety if the Town Board moves forward with a 2013 budget proposed by Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein.
Weinstein’s proposed $116.5 million budget increases spending by 1.2 percent, or about $1.4 million. However, higher revenue projections, some spending cuts and an increased use of town reserves would keep the town’s property tax levy flat.
At Wednesday’s board meeting, which included a lengthy public hearing on the budget, supporters for the Youth and Recreation Department were critical of a $95,000 cut to the department’s budget line for contracts with nonprofit groups. Although Weinstein does not specify which programs would be lost due to the budget cut – that would be decided by the town’s Youth Bureau – the net effect would scale back or eliminate some town programs now administered by nonprofits.
Weinstein said Thursday he sought the cut because such services are “not part of our core responsibilities.”
Meanwhile, in a detailed letter to the board, Police Chief John Askey expressed concern about several proposed cuts to the Police Department, as well as a boost in the department’s vacancy savings line that he said would essentially result in a hiring freeze for the department. Assistant Chief Charles Cohen addressed the same points before the board Wednesday.
Askey stated that ever since the Town Board approved a stable staffing level of 153 police officers six years ago, robberies, larcenies and vehicle thefts are up between 13 percent and 29 percent. That, mixed with increased police calls from new, private student housing near the University at Buffalo, requires a full complement of officers, Askey stated.
“I am asking the board to guard against any measures that reduce our current capabilities,” he said.
Weinstein responded that when counting all the officer vacancies last year, as well as the number of officers out on disability leave, the town was operating with only 143 effective officers last year. Currently, the department is up to 152 able-bodied officers on the payroll, he said.
Weinstein also recommended cutting $157,000 from the police vehicle replacement budget, which would result in a one-year delay replacing five vehicles. Askey stated police cars are used around the clock, often at high speeds and asked that the money be restored for safety reasons.
Finally, Weinstein wants to cut funding in half for police traffic control staffing of road races and parades, and for Old Home Days. The cut would amount to $61,000. Askey said police provide traffic control services to more than 45 town races and events, and many of these events couldn’t be done without police assistance. Weinstein said many of these events are organized or sponsored by for-profit businesses that can pay for police services. Many of these events also do not have the proper permits to operate, he said.
The next budget hearing will be held during the board’s regular meeting at 7 p.m. Monday in Town Hall, 5583 Main St. The budget is scheduled for adoption on Oct. 22.