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DEPARTMENTS ASK INCREASE OF 19.3% IN NEW BUDGET

City department heads are asking for an overall 19.3 percent increase in funding next fiscal year, at a time when officials are struggling to close a projected budget gap that could approach $42 million.

Mayor Anthony M. Masiello was to discuss the departmental budget requests at a hearing this afternoon in City Hall. They total nearly $219.1 million without fringe benefits, up $35.5 million from current appropriations.

Budget Director James B. Milroy said the requests submitted each year by commissioners are "wish lists" that typically assume a best-case situation. But the expected $18 million hit from the city's continuing property revaluation, coupled with other fiscal pressures, means most departments probably will not get double-digit funding increases, Milroy said.

"They ask for the moon, and that's their job," Milroy noted. "Commissioners are program advocates, and their top priority is to deliver services. We expect them to come in with big wish lists."

The Masiello administration must submit a spending plan to the Common Council by May 1. Eva M. Hassett, commissioner of administration and finance, said revaluation has made this the hardest budget season she has encountered in seven years.

"Reval has certainly made the task much more difficult, but everybody knew that going into it," she said.

But Hassett said speculating about property tax increases or layoffs would be premature. The fiscal outlook, she noted, would improve substantially if the state honors the city's request for an additional $33 million in aid.

"The state's response will be a big factor in determining what cuts, if any, we'll need to make," she said.

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