WHEATFIELD – The challenger in the race for town supervisor said at a news conference Thursday that the town’s growing surpluses show that residents are overtaxed.
Thomas J. Larson said the town can afford to “eliminate the unnecessary highway tax.”
In a telephone interview Thursday night, incumbent Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe agreed and said the highway tax will not be included in next year’s budget.
Larson is running against Cliffe in the Sept. 10 Republican primary. But Larson, a registered Republican, also has the Democratic Party’s endorsement and will be on that ticket in the Nov. 5 general election regardless of the outcome of the GOP primary.
Larson appeared at the news conference at the entrance to the Eagle Chase subdivision on Lockport Road with his running mates, councilman candidates Michael A. Kislack and Karen McKernan. Like Larson, both are registered Republicans running in both major parties.
Kislack and McKernan have a Democratic primary against Shirley J. Joy and Judy A. Blake. Also, Kislack and McKernan are entered in the GOP primary against incumbent Arthur W. Gerbec and Randy W. Retzlaff, the latter the nephew of retiring Councilman Kenneth Retzlaff.
The highway tax was imposed after Cliffe took office in January 2010 and found a deep deficit in the highway fund, which auditor Thomas P. Malecki, in a presentation at last week’s Town Board meeting, blamed on the budgeting of revenues that did not materialize in 2009, during the administration of former Supervisor Timothy E. Demler.
The highway tax, which was charged as a property tax, brought in $648,000 in 2010 and put the highway fund back in the black. The tax has been gradually reduced and totaled $189,000 for this year, Cliffe said.
The town’s fund balances, as reported by Malecki, have reached 16.4 percent of the spending total for all funds, including a general fund surplus of nearly 30 percent.
“It is now very clear that Wheatfield families have been taxed unnecessarily for the past four years,” Larson said. “For the past couple of years, we have been told by Mr. Cliffe that we as residents should sacrifice and tighten our belts,” the challenger said.
He attacked not only the highway tax but the town’s long-standing policy of offering town-paid lifetime health insurance to former part-time elected officials.
Larson said he would eliminate health coverage for part-time officials “no matter how far back it goes.”
Cliffe said the town did away with that benefit for officials newly elected in 2011 and thereafter, but said it would be “unfair” to change it for others.
Kenneth Retzlaff, with 32 years of town service, takes the health care, as does former officeholder and current town GOP chairman James D. Heuer. The town also offers partial health discounts for those who served 10 years or more.
Among them, Cliffe said, is Demler, who served 14 years in office and thus is receiving health insurance paid half by the town and half by him.
“For us to come along and take that away, it’s not only rude, it’s undeserved,” Cliffe said.
Larson also decried drainage problems in subdivisions such as Eagle Chase, but offered no specific plans. He said he opposes the town drainage department suggested by Gerbec last week.
Cliffe called the department “an interesting idea that was just brought up” but didn’t commit to supporting it.
He said soft ground has prevented the town from using heavy equipment to traverse fields and clean ditches, but he hoped dry weather would allow such work during the remainder of the year.