Members of the public generally praised the proposed Town of Lancaster 2013 budget at a hearing Monday night but expressed concerns about the rising cost of employee benefits.
The public hearing on next year’s fiscal plan drew comments from half a dozen speakers, with residents raising few complaints about a proposal that holds the line on property taxes for most in Lancaster.
But several residents sharply criticized the increased spending for employees’ health benefits and pensions, noting that town employees don’t pay anything toward their health care premiums.
“C’mon guys, let’s start paying your fair share. You’re bleeding the taxpayers,” resident Tom Kazmierczak said.
For her part, Marsha Cox, the president of the union that represents most white-collar town employees, asked whether it was reasonable to ask employees to go without raises for a second year in a row.
Supervisor Dino J. Fudoli replied that most workers in the private sector haven’t had raises over a longer period of time, but he remains open to negotiating new contracts that include higher employee salaries.
“There are ways to get raises to employees that are budget neutral,” Fudoli said.
The supervisor released a tentative 2013 town budget that raises spending by 1.53 percent but lowers the property tax levy – the amount to be collected in property taxes – by about 1 percent from the current budget. Fudoli’s plan also eliminates two funded, but vacant, positions.
The rising cost for debt service and employee pensions drove most of the spending increase in the $30.7 million budget. The budget plan spends $1.1 million from the town’s unreserved fund balances, leaving $5.4 million in those funds at the end of this year.
Resident Lee Chowaniec, who has studied the proposal, said he doesn’t believe the budget uses up too much of the town’s reserve funds, and he praised Fudoli for holding the line on taxes.
Most town residents would see a slight decrease in their property tax bill. For example, a home in the town outside the villages of Lancaster and Depew assessed at $200,000 would see its total town and special-district tax bill fall $33.49, or 1.9 percent, to $1,732.66, from this year.
Chowaniec and others, however, raised concerns about the high cost of employee health care and pensions in the budget. The total cost for health, dental and vision plans for current and retired employees is $2.75 million.
Fudoli’s budget assumes employee pay won’t rise in 2013. “Is this budget, with no pay increase for the second year in a row, reasonable?” asked Cox, the union representative.
The town’s contracts with its four employee unions expired at the end of 2011, and the town is negotiating new agreements with the unions.
Fudoli said any raises would have to be offset by givebacks in the negotiations, while other speakers argued the town’s continuing assumption of rising health care and pension costs amounts to a raise.
“There’s already a raise in the budget, it’s just not in their pockets,” said resident Mike Fronczak.
Councilman John Abraham Jr., asked David J. Brown, the town’s director of administration and finance, whether he was too optimistic in his projection for the amount the town will collect in sales tax revenue.
Brown said he stands by his estimate, which would see sales tax income rise by 8.4 percent.
The Democrats who hold a 4-1 majority on the Town Board haven’t released any changes to the Republican supervisor’s budget proposal. The Town Board is expected to vote on the 2013 budget at its Nov. 19 meeting.