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PROPOSED VILLAGE BUDGET BOOSTS TAX FOR THIRD STRAIGHT YEAR

The one constant in Depew recently has been higher taxes. It appears the trend will continue.

Under a tentative budget prepared by Mayor Joseph McIntosh, the village property tax rate would rise about 7.8 percent. That comes on the heels of last year's 15 percent increase and a 10 percent increase the year before that.

"The tax increase is almost entirely attributable to increases in retirement and health care costs," McIntosh said Thursday.

Pension costs for police officers and firefighters account for more than $700,000 in the $10.65 million spending plan. Under that proposal, village property owners would see a nearly 7.8 percent tax rate increase, to $18.16 per $1,000 of assessed valuation over the current rate of $16.85 per $1,000.

A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for April 11, after which the Village Board will meet with department heads to fine-tune the plan.

If McIntosh's proposal were to be adopted unchanged, the village tax bill on a $100,000 house would be $1,092, a $79 increase over last year.

Last year's 15 percent increase and the previous year's 10 percent tax hike came after a decade of minimal or no tax increases.

Village Clerk Robert Kucewicz said village taxes have gone up about 16 percent since 1995, or an average of 1.6 percent a year.

"For eight of the last 10 years, we had tax cuts around 2 to 3 percent prior to this tentative plan," Kucewicz said.

But if the tax rate in McIntosh's budget for 2005-06 is adopted by the board, village taxpayers will see nearly a 33 percent tax rate increase over the past three years.

McIntosh attributed it to weakened investments for public workers' pension plans and the effects of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Like other public entities, the village's share of those costs have soared since then, he explained.

"We're trying to address the medical insurance cost increases through our collective bargaining process," McIntosh said. "Right now, we're negotiating with the police."

The Village of Lancaster merged its police department with the Lancaster Town Police Department two years ago. Depew, which is in both the towns of Lancaster and Cheektowaga, is awaiting a merger study undertaken by Erie County last year.

McIntosh said personnel costs account for the bulk of the village budget.

"If we throw personnel costs out, we're spending less on other items today than we were in 1995," he said.

e-mail: hmcneil@buffnews.com

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