Mar 8


Tricky finances, politics in Cheektowaga

Town supervisor says expenses are rising faster than revenues. A partisan stalemate on the town board could make fixing the problem difficult.
News and analysis by Geoff Kelly, Investigative Post's political reporter

This column was adopted from Investigative Post’s weekly “Political Post” newsletter. Subscribe here and get “Political Post” in your inbox every Wednesday morning.

We’ve reported a lot in recent years about the City of Buffalo’s troubled finances. 

And most folks reading this have heard about the 11.4 percent tax hike in Amherst, as well as the  attendant uprising, now entering its fourth month. 

Cheektowaga has a looming budget problem, too, according to the town supervisor, Brian Nowak, who took office in January after six years as a member of the town board.

On Twitter/X this week, Nowak noted that the town’s expenses have risen 10.3 percent over the last four years. In that same period, the town’s tax levy has risen less than 1 percent.

That imbalance has drained $5.4 million from the town’s cash reserves, according to Nowak. 

That’s not a sustainable course, Nowak said during a Facebook Live discussion on Sunday, in which he addressed various town issues, including its finances, and responded to questions submitted by residents.

“It’s basically like quitting your second job, buying a new car, and just hoping it works out,” he said of the town’s recent spending patterns. “That doesn’t work in your household. We cannot do that as far as our budgets go.”

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There are only three solutions, barring a windfall of new municipal assistance from the state or federal governments: 

  • cut expenses, which usually means cutting jobs and reducing services. 
  • increase revenue, which means raising taxes and fees or borrowing money.
  • a combination of both.

Cheektowaga Town Supervisor Brian Nowak on Facebook Live.

“You have to kind of move all the needles, so to speak,” Nowak said. “You’re going to have to generate some more revenue somehow. You’re going to have to cut back on some spending somehow.”

Tax hikes are politically fraught, as are cuts in jobs and services. And Nowak, a Democrat, already has plenty of political problems: The Republicans he narrowly defeated in November to win the town supervisor race have been making good on a promise to make things difficult for his administration. The board is split politically — three Republicans, three Democrats — which has allowed Republicans to hold up even the most workaday legislation, including hiring and appointments to the town’s various boards. 

In January they stalled approving a release of funds to pay the town’s already accrued bills. (Eventually they relented.) They prevented Nowak from hiring a part-time, $20-per-hour assistant for his office — at least in part because Nowak’s preferred candidate for the job is a Democrat who lost her bid for reelection to the town board in November.

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The board’s Republicans haven’t even allowed the board’s Democrats to fill the town board seat Nowak vacated when he was sworn in as supervisor. Doing so, of course, likely would give Democrats four votes on the board, robbing the Republicans of their stalemate power. The seat may go unfilled until a special election in November.

That partisan deadlock is bound to make tough financial decisions even more difficult. 

“We’re not in dire straits, but we’re not in a great position as a town, either,” he said. 

“We’ve got an opportunity over the next three or four years to work our way out of that situation. As long as we’re paying close attention to balancing our spending with the tax increases.”

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