Town council increases budget; raises Benczkowski’s proposed property tax

Funding for youth groups was never impacted by supervisor's proposed budget,

Chronicle file photo of the Cheektowaga Town Council.
Chronicle file photo of the Cheektowaga Town Council.

CHEEKTOWAGA – The town council voted Thursday to add an estimated $172K to Supervisor Diane Benczkowski’s 2018 budget to purchase a new truck for the sewer department and adjust funding to the recreation department.

Plans to increase the budget were discussed over two work sessions Thursday afternoon and last week Wednesday.  The modification to the budget increases taxes just under a quarter of a percent to 2.09% – up from the supervisor’s original figure of 1.86%. The tax increase will allow the town to purchase a $240K sewer truck without presenting a bond measure to the residents.

Based on suggestions from Councilmember James Rogowski, the council was able to recover $80K from the sewer department and highway department to help pay for the truck and modify funding in the recreation department.

“I checked these cuts with Brian Krause our town accountant and spoke with department heads to cut the department lines and the departments were okay with these cuts because they weren’t going to affect anyone or anything in their day-to-day duties,” said Mr. Rogowski. 

 $9K of that money will be used to offset minimum wage increases allowing the town to hire additional lifeguards next season.  However, the pools will still open one week later and close one week earlier, and daily operating hours will be reduced.  Councilmember Alice Magierski voted against the increase if it didn’t add operating hours to the pools.

While many people thought a $12K reduction on the Aid to Youth Programs budget line in the supervisor’s tentative budget would harm little league groups in town, that was just a misconception according to Councilmember Timothy Meyers.

Half of that money was used to pay for Halloween candy for the fire departments, the Wednesdays in the Park program, recreation department credit cards bills, and the printing costs for the town’s day camp brochure.  Those items were moved to the correct budget lines by the department head which resulted in the $12K reduction.

“We’re not cutting any youth aid if we stick with the $12K in the budget,” said Supervisor Diane Benczkowski.  “(Jillian Gorman-King) did what she was supposed to do.”

While the $12K for youth aid is sufficient to cover the $10K councilmembers say the town paid out last year, a majority of the council voted to increase the budget line by $3K to $15K.  Councilmember Linda Hammer and Ms. Benczkowski were against the increase.

The remaining $68K from the sewer and highway department will help reduce the overall cost of the new sewer truck; a specialized heated and insulated truck that can clear sewer blockages during the winter. It can also be used during the summer months.  Mr. Rogowski says the truck was cut from the supervisor’s proposed budget and was put back in by councilmembers.

“If we had a sewer break right now we don’t have a truck that can do that work.  We would need to have outside contractors come in and do it,” said Mr. Rogowski.

Councilmember James Rogowski also asked the board to consider moving an additional $60K from the police department’s overtime budget to help reduce the tax burden on residents – something that the council was discussing since last week’s work session.  The reduction would have brought the overtime budget to an estimated $900K.

“There’s still $33K built into that – $33,500 built into that in case there is a situation,” said Mr. Rogowski.

Councilmembers Meyers, Hammer, and Adamczyk were opposed to the idea.

“Jimmy, in this day and age, in this world with the things that have been going on, people being shot, this and that, I don’t think we should be cutting the police overtime,” said Ms. Hammer.

“I pray to God that doesn’t happen here, but one event like that would blow that away.  If there is any kind of event like that, that money will be spent regardless,” said Mr. Meyers.

Ms. Benczkowski wrote, “I filed a fiscally responsible budget at the Town Clerk’s office on October 30. In my budget I looked at the needs of the town and also looked at being fiscally responsible to the needs of our residents. The Town Board added the extra dollars to my budget to increase the tax levy well over 3%. The things added to the budget I feel is too much for our residents to bear. We have residents who can barely have enough money to put food on the table for their family, yet we have a town board member adding more money back into the budget to open our pools a week earlier in the summer. My budget was put in place to do more with less. In my budget the pools would still be open and there were no cuts to Aid to Youth. So for that reason I will be voting “NO” on the revised budget at Tuesday’s board meeting.”

The modified budget will be voted on by the town council on Tuesday, November 14th.  If the budget does not pass – the supervisor’s proposed budget will be enacted.