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COUNCIL AIMS TO PARE TAX HIKE TO BELOW 4.5%

City of Tonawanda Common Council members hope to offer residents a property-tax increase lower than the 4.5 percent included in the mayor's proposed 2000 budget.

When the Council sat down in a work session with the proposed budget Tuesday night, some Council members decided the proposed increase to $16.60 per $1,000 of assessed value was too high -- $43.20 more for a house assessed at $60,000.

"To me, that's unacceptable," said 3rd Ward Alderman Ronald J. Pilozzi. "I don't want to go back to taxpayers with 4.53 (percent increase)."

Pilozzi proposed aiming for a 2 percent tax increase. Doing that will be much easier with the help of a nugget of good news from Albany: an additional $100,000 in state aid for 1999.

Pilozzi suggested using the additional funds from the state to trim the tax increase to just under 3 percent, then asking department heads all to find ways to cut spending to bring the increase down another percentage point.

When Mayor Alice A. Roth presented her $12.93 million budget to the Council in early August, she noted that the "bare-bones" proposal kept expenditures to a minimum, often slashing the requests of department heads.

The $2.5 million judgment against the city in the Carlson lawsuit earlier in the year has been a major factor in budget planning.

The mayor set aside $330,000 in the budget for 2000 to cover payments in the settlement. The city was found liable in a 1989 incident that left one sheriff's deputy dead and another seriously wounded. Although the city is appealing, officials are building the settlement into their fiscal planning.

City officials Tuesday noted that, if it were not for the lawsuit settlement, taxes would actually have decreased slightly. The 2000 tax levy increases $263,068 from this year's levy.

Although many items were cut in the mayor's proposal, it was $35,000 for two new police cars that attracted the greatest deal of concern from Council members.

The Police Department's four marked cars and five unmarked cars are supposed to be replaced on a regular schedule of two one year and four the next year. In 2000, four police cars were due to be replaced, Chief Mark Winters said.

The mayor cut that number in half in her budget proposal. This year, two cars were supposed to be replaced, but only one was.

"My feeling is that a couple of these vehicles need to be put back in," Council President Carleton R. Zeisz said.

"I'm not comfortable cutting those police cars," said 2nd Ward Alderman Jack E. Gallagher.

Winters said he found $26,300 in additional revenue for the Police Department, most of it in grant funding, to help cover the cost of the cars.

"The Police Department has been very aggressive in getting grant money," Mrs. Roth said. "They probably earned the right to be at the top of the list when you're adding things."

The Council will discuss the budget again at its meeting Tuesday. A budget is expected to be adopted Sept. 15.

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