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Seeking civility in Amherst

   Are Amherst Town Board meetings too uncivil, too disorganized?

   Some would argue that this kind of raw politics gives residents an unvarnished, unrehearsed and more honest view of the decision-making process when it comes to town policy.

   Others say the inflammatory conduct of some Town Board members and residents speaking before the board has made the town government an object of ridicule in Western New York.

   With three new board members joining the seven-member governing body, it will be interesting to see whether the tone of town politics in Amherst will change for better or for worse over the coming year.

   --- Sandra Tan

   

A lesson in understanding

    Sometimes you use an expression and it becomes such a habit, you never stop to think what it means.

   Until a few years ago, I said and wrote that someone who used a wheelchair was "wheelchair bound," never considering that it was inaccurate. I should have known better. But as is often the case with such things, it took being told by a person who uses a wheelchair to make me understand.

   Which brings me to Eileen Coughlin. Children are now taught from the earliest age that people who have disabilities might not be able to walk or hear or see, but they're still people with the same hopes and fears we all have. That's Coughlin's simple message when she speaks to students in West Seneca and tells them her story.

   Of course, the students already know that. But maybe now they understand.

  --- Bruce Andriatch

   

Timber!

   We may love our trees, but some trees just aren't worth saving.

   That's the position of Amherst Highway Superintendent Robert Anderson, who said he's received quite an education on trees since the October storm. He said arborists have told him that trees have a natural life span, and if a tree is severely damaged toward the end of that time period, chances are high they will never recover.

   They may die slowly, over a period of years, requiring intensive monitoring and pruning. But ultimately, the tree loses its beauty, dies, and must be cut down at great cost to the town, he said.

   Some Amherst residents have loudly complained that Anderson has ordered his crews to tag up to 2,000 damaged trees over the past couple of weeks for removal because of FEMA aid. They say older trees should be given more of a chance to recover.

   Anderson responded that in many cases, residents would be better off with a new tree that can start the growth process afresh than with an old, damaged tree that will simply wither over time.

   With whom do you agree?

  --- Sandra Tan

Different pockets, same money

   How are we taxed by New York State? Let me count the ways ...

   There's income tax, sales tax and gasoline tax, just to name three. New Yorkers pay thousands of dollars every year to fund state government. Some of that money comes back to us, which is the case with capital projects undertaken by school districts.

   But that's still our money. When the governor rolls out the state budget early next year, there will be money included that will be earmarked for general school aid, building aid and maybe other aid in the form of initiatives like EXCEL and every school district will be able to get a piece of it.

   The schools will spend the money, of course, but when your district releases its budget in the spring and officials say, "The extra state aid we got means we can hold the line on taxes," what they mean is that your property tax bill might not go up very much. They might not mention what is happening to your state taxes.

  --- Bruce Andriatch

   

   

Southtowns exposure

   In a region where we take even Niagara Falls for granted, it's likely difficult for many of us to consider that the Southtowns are a tourism diamond in the rough. And that's what makes it easy to dismiss a report that says the region could somehow tap into the tourism market in a meaningful way.

   But if it's true than tens of millions of people visited a farm in the past year, why couldn't the agriculture-rich reaches of southern Erie County get a piece of that?

   --- Bruce Andriatch

   

A developing story

   

   The 326-acre Muir Woods project for northern Amherst was subjected to nearly seven years of crutiny, debate, revision and compromise before Ciminelli Development could get the Town Board to rezone the property for development on Monday.

   Meanwhile, Benderson Development's proposal to redevelop the Buffalo Shooting Club in Amherst as a mixed-use community with retail, housing, hotel and community space has been around since early last year.

   It was on track to receive rezoning approval at the Town Board's next meeting, but got  sidestracked when board members voted 4-3 Monday to table an environmental impact statement on the project.

   At recent meetings, council members Daniel Ward and Deborah Bruch Bucki, as well as Supervisor Satish Mohan, have expressed objections to the idea of the board approving major land-use decisions at the end of the year.

   They argue that these decisions should wait until January when new board members take their seats. Instead, they said, "lame duck" board members are intent on "ramrodding through" major development proposals in a last-minute effort to help out their campaign-contributing developer friends.

   But council members Michael McGuire, William O'Loughlin and William Kindel, all of whom will be leaving office Dec. 31, say they wouldn't be fulfilling their oath of office if they refused to make any major decisions in the last month of the year.

   Developers also contend that the board that's most educated about a development is the board that should be voting on the project … essentially supporting the opinion held by McGuire, O'Loughlin and Kindel.

   The heated debate has been ongoing for weeks. Who's right?

   --- Sandra Tan

Assessment woes

   Rock groups in the 1960s and '70s took on a lot of causes, from Vietnam, to civil rights, to the ecology. But only Creedence Clearwater Revival had the guts to take on property assessment:

  "Some folks are born silver spoon in hand,

   Lord, don't they help themselves, oh.

   But when the taxman comes to the door,

   Lord, the house looks like a rummage sale."

   - Fortunate Son, 1970

   You know us so well, John Fogerty.

   When the reassessment notice arrives in the mail, we complain that our house isn't worth that much, that the assessor must be crazy, that our neighbor's house is worth much more than ours - unless, of course, we want to sell our house. Then we tell the Realtor that the assessor missed a lot.

   As much as we don't want to pay more taxes, isn't an increase in our property's value ultimately a good thing? Would you rather live in a house that is decreasing in value?

   --- Bruce Andriatch