The Amherst Town Board voted, 4-2, Monday to approve a $116.6 million budget that adds $68,871 in spending in response to public and department head concerns about initial cuts to police and youth and recreation services.
But neither department got everything it asked for.
The budget still keeps overall town taxes flat because the money for the additional spending came from the town’s reserves or was offset by cuts to other budget lines.
“I am pleased to be able to present a budget that seems to satisfy the police without an increase in the tax levy for the third straight year,” said Supervisor Barry Weinstein after the meeting.
About 30 police officers attended the budget meeting out of concern over the proposed cuts to their department. Former Amherst Council Member Bill Kindel, chairman of the town’s Conservative Party, also picketed outside Town Hall with his family in support of Amherst police.
One big issue – funding for police vehicles – appeared to be resolved as the board agreed to increase the general fund budget for police cars and commit to up to $100,000 more in borrowing for unmarked police vehicles, which have a longer lifespan. Between the two funding sources, the department would receive its full funding request of $359,000.
Although the Police Department did not get all of its cuts restored, Assistant Chief Charles Cohen said, “Overall, I’m relieved.”
Not all matters were resolved with the adoption of the 2013 budget. Still to be determined:
• The fallout from a resolution adopted Monday that will require many organizers of races and events in the town who need more than $1,000 worth of traffic-control services from the Amherst Police Department to fully reimburse the town for that cost.
• Which youth and recreation programs, administered by nonprofit agencies, will be lost because of $75,000 in cuts to the Youth and Recreation Department for contractual services.
About half a dozen speakers at the packed meeting spoke in favor of restoring cuts to the Police Department.
Patrick Curtin, a 5K race organizer for the Run for Water, which supports water well digging in Sierra Leone, and the Grace Race, which supports Christian Central Academy, said he’s not opposed to paying “nominal fee” for police support, but hopes race organizers will be allowed to make greater use of citizen auxiliary police.
Several spoke about the resolution to require more than a dozen organizers of races and events to reimburse the town for traffic control provided by police officers.
Kathleen Graim, a breast cancer patient at Roswell Park Cancer Institute and race organizer for the Tops Run/Walk, which draws more than 1,500 participants, said the money needed to reimburse the town will keep money out of the hands of cancer researchers looking for a cure.
“Three thousand dollars less is going to go to charity,” she said.
The board, nevertheless, supported Weinstein’s resolution, 5-1, with Council Member Mark Manna voting against.
Council Member Steven Sanders said it’s wrong to expect all taxpayers to subsidize private charitable events, especially since different residents have differing charitable priorities. It’s important to look at the “true cost” for these events, he said.
Manna argued that these races draw thousands of people to Amherst and make the town a better place. He said there’s a moral imperative for the board to support these races by making police available free of charge.
“It’s more than just dollars and cents,” he said.
Marlette responded that the town needs to work with these groups to help them restructure their efforts so that they are more affordable for everyone, including the town.
Council Member Barbara Nuchereno put forth a resolution seeking to restore $50,000 of an original $95,000 cut from the Youth and Recreation Department’s contractual budget line for programs administered by nonprofit agencies.
Supervisor Weinstein received full board support to restore $20,000 in additional funding but Nuchereno argued that the department needs $30,000 more.
Her motion failed 4-2, with Nuchereno and Manna voting in favor. Both council members voted against the final budget, which was approved with the other four members voting in favor.
Weinstein said afterward that the 2013 was the most difficult budget he’s ever crafted because of the $1.5 million in increased state pension contributions the town was forced to absorb.
“If it wasn’t for that,” he said, “we’d have a nice tax reduction, and we wouldn’t have had any more cuts.”