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Tax hike of 2.9% looms in budget

Town of Tonawanda property owners face a 2.9 percent tax increase under a tentative 2009 budget that totals more than $85.8 million.

Town Supervisor Anthony F. Caruana delivered his first budget message Monday. The Town Board will hold budget work sessions this week and next; a public hearing is scheduled for Nov. 6.

Annual property taxes on a home assessed at $50,000 would total $1,143.76 -- an increase of $32.49. That translates into a town tax bill of about $3.13 a day -- 9 cents more per day -- for the average homeowner.

Continuing a practice established by his predecessor, Caruana broke down spending within that daily total. The major items include:

*Garbage pickup and recycling: 63 cents.

*Police: 58 cents.

*Sanitary sewer wastewater plant and storm sewer: 46 cents.

Other daily costs range from 1 cent for economic development, to 6 cents for snow removal, to 22 cents for street lighting, and 41 cents for youth, parks and recreation.

The budget process began at the end of June, when Caruana gave department heads guidelines.

"These budget assumptions and guidelines basically requested the department heads to submit their budget requests with no more than a 3 percent increase over their 2008 operating budget," Caruana explained at Monday night's Town Board meeting. "[They] . . . also provided for the same level of full-time employees in all departments as their 2008 operating budget."

Yet total operating costs are up 4.8 percent, according to Caruana. The reasons include hospital and medical insurance, the increased costs of gasoline and diesel fuel, as well as related petroleum-based products such as asphalt used for road surfacing.

"The highest increase in spending is for the additional costs for hospital and medical insurance for employees and retirees, which will be increasing by $1.3 million," Caruana said. That line totals $9.9 million in the tentative budget.

There's also money to buy seven new police vehicles; a dump truck and garbage packer for the Highway Department; and computer upgrades. Capital reserves will be used to buy additional vehicles and equipment for the Police, Highway and Water Resources departments.

At $45.1 million, the tax levy would increase by 4.5 percent. But the effect on homeowners is offset by slight increases in assessed valuation.

"The small increase in assessed valuation is the result of new building activity, not the result of updating assessments on a townwide basis," Caruana said.

A budget must be adopted by Nov. 20.

e-mail: jhabuda@buffnews.com

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