AMHERST, N.Y. (WIVB) — Town budgets statewide are due on Nov. 20, and in Amherst, some residents say they feel blindsided by the more than 11 percent tax increase passed by the town board earlier this month. The town says the proposed tax increase was made public in mid-September.
Amherst moved ahead with its budget earlier this month after the board voted to override the state’s tax cap. The 11.4 percent tax hike will go into effect, but some residents say it will hit their wallets hard, especially as the price for food, gas, and other services continues to rise.
“It looks like they’re pricing seniors and even young folks out of the Town of Amherst,” Dirk Rabenold, who is a member of the Amherst Republican Committee, said outside Amherst town hall Monday.
Supervisor Brian Kulpa said in a statement to News 4, “It’s more complicated than a headline.” He said this tax revenue will help pay for the $33 million LED street light conversion project, the Boulevard Mall and the Amherst Central Park. He added that over the last year, the town filled several job vacancies, creating a smaller surplus than in prior years. Finally, Kulpa said the town needs to stop borrowing for recurring expenses to try and get the budget back on track after the pandemic.
You can read Kulpa’s full statement below:
“It’s more complicated than a headline. Last year we bonded a $33 million streetlight conversion. We are growing our lighting districts and dealing with contractual labor increases. Additionally, last year we had abnormally large reserve, and we put $6 million back to offset the 8 percent inflation rate, while leaving our own reserves at a healthy 10 percent. Numerous police vacancies and other items created that surplus. This year, we have less surplus to apply as we have staffed back up and our tax levy ebbs and flows because we are 130,000 population municipality that has a commitment to public safety and infrastructure.”
“We also have to stop borrowing for items that are recurring expenses, such as purchasing police vehicles and highway vehicles. We could get away with it when the fed held interest rates at zero, now that we are facing higher interest rates, it will hurt us long term, but that means we have to bite a bullet to move a million plus into the budget this year.”Supervisor Brian Kulpa, (D) Amherst
“Incomes have not been able to keep up with the historic levels of inflation and families have had to make sacrifices and adjustments financially. Shouldn’t our government have to the same with its budgetary goals?” Kimberly Gabel, a resident and member of the Amherst Republican Committee, said.
The town posted the budget on Sept. 18, and in the budget summary, the town stated it would increase tax revenue by almost $10.5 million, which equals 11.4 percent. This exceeds the state’s 3.3 percent tax levy cap. The town board spoke about it in several meetings in October, and held two public hearings.
Then, the board voted to override the tax cap during a special session on Nov. 9, which passed 4-1.
“We were going to start looking at houses together, but now that’s kind of off the table. I was sort of taken back. I felt like there was absolutely no transparency,” Alicia Piracci of Amherst said.
“I had a client who was going to move up from Cheektowaga to East Amherst. She canceled the deal and said I’d rather just stay where I am,” Deborah Martin Kilbourn, a real estate agent, added.
Residents say some projects should hold off until the town has more money to pay for them, such as the massive LED lighting project.
“Phase this in over several years, maybe even ten years. Reduce public costs for the Boulevard Mall revival and scale down the $7.8 million Westwood Central Park plan to be done gradually over several years,” Brain Rusk, chairman of the Amherst Republican Committee, said.
According to an Amherst town official, the budget will be adopted and the board does not need to vote on it because there were no additional proposed amendments after the Nov. 9 special session.
Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native and Emmy-nominated reporter who joined the News 4 team in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.