Weekly Feature

2008-01-02 / Front Page

Highway Department budget comes up short in 2007

by JESSICA L. FINCH Associate Editor

(Editor's note: In the Jan. 3, 2007 edition, The Amherst Bee ran the article "Highway Department expects difficult year." This article is a follow-up.)

One year ago, Highway Superintendent Bob Anderson prepared to face 365 days with what he called an underfunded 2007 budget.

He now says that proved to be true.

"Obviously we were able to function, but we spent all of our payroll money and used some of the fund balance," he said, adding that the payroll funding was underfunded, even with no new hires in 2007 and a few retirements.

Anderson added that he is now worried about the bottom line but won't know the final numbers until at least next month. He is also concerned that if the fund balance (reserves) is below 10 percent of the total budget, it will affect his bond rating.

He said the attempt to save money in 2007 is negated by the 2008 budget, in which he received the funding he asked for.

"It's a little tougher each year; we try holding the line the best we can," Anderson said. "Each dollar becomes so important."

During the 2007 budget process, Anderson fought with Supervisor Satish Mohan and the Town Board, insisting that his figures were based on history and exactly how much is spent.

"I asked for the amounts that have been used in the past. It's not a pie-in-the sky guess," he said in the Jan. 3, 2007 edition.

The two main issues last year were salt and trees. Anderson said the department had only $32,000 left for the last two months of the year after being cut by $350,000. The department ran out of funding and still has unpaid bills.

In a normal year, $900,000 is spent on salt.

The budget also had $362,902 less in the forestry department, which resulted in fewer trees being planted in the fall.

"By not having that funding last year we lost time to plant 3,500 trees," he said.

Also cut was $120,000 for road striping, which is required by New York State. Anderson said there were some roads that were striped and had to be paid for with money from the paving account.

"Everyone knows there is a lot of trimming to be done and extra things; we simply are not going to be able to complete it all," he said.

What remains an issue from 2007 is lack of funding to purchase equipment, he said. At the start of 2007, 13 pieces of equipment were listed as unsafe, and another four to five were given the same label during the year.

One of the three tree trucks was recently taken out of commission. Anderson had asked for funding in the 2008 budget to replace the 20-year-old truck, but it was denied. The town is now left with two tree trucks and a lot of work still remaining from the October 2006 storm.

The Highway Department was short in other areas, diesel and oil being one that Anderson brought attention to.

"We just ran out of money. I couldn't control the rising costs of gas and oil," he said.

In 2008, Anderson has the funding he requested, but there is catch-up work to be done from 2007, he said.

"We don't have cushion money ... the only place left is the fund balance," he said about getting through the past year.

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