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Town of Hamburg budget process has bad news

In the coming days, Hamburg Town Supervisor Steven Walters will be filing the preliminary 2013 town budget.

He told Councilmembers Amy Ziegler and Joseph Collins Monday (Sept. 24) during the work session to prepare to roll up their sleeves and get to work, because there are going to be a lot of hard decisions to make in the coming weeks.

“There’s a lot of bad news,” Walters said.

Once again this year, he points to another “substantial” increase in pension costs as the major contributing factor. According to Walters, the pension costs have nearly tripled over the last five years.

“It brings us close to the 2 percent on our property tax cap (levy),” Walters said. The supervisor added that to date, nearly 20 percent of the town tax bill is taken up by the pension system, and there is nothing that the town can do about it.

“That’s something we have zero control over and something we have to work through,” Walters said.

As costs have increased, Walters said the revenues have not been on par to offset those costs.

“During that time, revenues have been declining or remaining static,” he said.

For the first time as supervisor, Walters said he is going to submit the proposed budget as is with all of the department heads requests included, so that the board can work together to decide where to cut.

Walters noted that he adjusted the use of the fund balance throughout the early portion of the process.

“There’s going to be a lot of hard work in this budget,” Walters said.

The board will be scheduling meetings on the budget, which will be open to the public.

In other news, Collins questioned Walters about the figures associated with Woodlawn Beach State Park for 2012.

“We need to know those figures,” Collins said, adding he believes the town needs to find a better way to keep track of the figures.

“It must be done through a change of procedure with the town board,” Walters said.

The supervisor pointed out to Collins that when the Town of Hamburg assumed control of the beach from New York State in 2011, he proposed creating an enterprise fund, similar to what the town uses with the Eighteen-Mile-Creek Golf Course. The vote failed 2-2 in 2011 with Collins and former councilman Jon Gorman voting against the creation of the enterprise fund.

Walters, responding to a question that resident Steve Strnad asked at the Sept. 10 meeting in regards to costs associated with the beach, said under the current accounting system with the beach, he does not have all of the figures because there is still some activity at the beach throughout the rest of the year.

“We estimate as close as we can. It’s not to the penny. But it’s very close,” Walters said.

Until the final activities are complete, Walters said the town cannot close the books and present the final numbers.

Walters told Collins he felt it was “disingenuous” of him to be asking about the figures when Collins voted against creating the enterprise fund in the first place.

To date, Walters estimates the town has collected about $270,000 in revenue from Woodlawn Beach in 2012.

He said when the books are closed, he will make the report public.

“You’re trying to turn this into a Republican versus Democrat issue when in reality, it’s a town issue,” said Walters.

Collins said he initially voted against the idea of an enterprise fund for a couple of reasons. He said in reading about them, he feared it created a false sense of how much revenue the town was bringing in.

Also, he said at the time, he was concerned about whether the town could maintain the park, which Walters said under state control, he estimates its highest amount of revenue was about $50,000.

Seeing the amount of people who have come to the beach and the amount of money it has brought in, Collins said he would vote differently today.

“I will vote in favor with you,” Collins said of the idea of presenting creating an enterprise fund. He added that Walters and Ziegler did not offer a resolution in 2012 to change the accounting procedure to the enterprise fund.

Walters responded by saying that in order to change an accounting practice, it has to be done in a manner in which the procedure begins at the start of the next fiscal year.

Collins told Walters he also did not want to give the supervisor a “cart blanche credit card” in 2011 to go spend freely on the park. Collins tossed out a figure of $800,000 that he said Walters wanted to budget for the beach in 2011.

Walters responded by saying the town did not intend to budget close to $800,000 total in its first three years.

“Joe, you need to start telling the truth,” Walters said. “Stop making up facts, Joe.”

The Hamburg Town Board will hold its next meeting beginning with a work session at 6 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 8. The board will then hold its regular meeting at 7 p.m.

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