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CITY HOMEOWNERS FACE AVERAGE HIKE IN TAXES OF 11% ADDITION FOR SCHOOLS RAISES FIGURE

The average Buffalo residential tax bill would increase 11 percent under the combined effect of the mayor's and Common Council's funding for Buffalo schools, Assessor Joseph J. Tanzella said Thursday.

A $639.7 million budget originally proposed by Mayor Griffin would hike property taxes an average of 8 percent for homeowners, Tanzella said. By adding an extra $2.73 million for schools in its budget vote last Friday, the Council increased that average tax hike to 11 percent, he said.

Another complicating factor is an assessment update that increased the value of Buffalo's residential property by 98 percent.

To understand the impact of both proposed budget totals, consider the tax bills on a house that went up 98 percent in assessed value this year from $25,250 to $50,000:

Last year the bill was $716.09.

Under Griffin's proposed budget, it would be $773.50 -- an increase of $57.41 or 8 percent.

If the extra funds for schools are included in the final budget, the tax bill would be $795.50 -- a hike of $79.41 or 11 percent.

If the assessed value of a house increased more than 98 percent, the tax hike would be greater. If the assessed value rose less than 98 percent, the tax increase would be smaller.

On the other hand, businesses -- which increased in value an average of 14 percent -- get a relative break.

A commercial property assessed at $87,730 last year paid $3,704 in taxes. If it increased 14 percent in value to $100,000, the tax bill under the Council budget would drop to $3,419.

North District Council Member Dale L. Zuchlewski, who offered the amendment to increase school spending, said Thursday that increased taxes have to be weighed against the plight of the city schools, which face widespread layoffs and a large budget gap.

"I'm scared to death of what's going to happen to the schools in the next year," Zuchlewski said. "If we expect people to live in Buffalo, we have to make the streets safe and we have to educate kids. And we're going to have to pay for that."

Zuchlewski said the Council increased Griffin's budget by only 2 percent, but that a series of complicated factors -- including a recently concluded citywide assessment update -- determine individual tax bills.

"What I can vote on, I'll take responsibility for," Zuchlewski said.

South District Council Member Brian M. Higgins, who voted against the extra $2.73 million, said school officials have failed to properly account for their spending, and that asking taxpayers to provide more money is "subsidizing waste."

"If you look at the budget, whether the tax increase is 8 percent or 11 percent, that's on top of a 20 percent increase last year," Higgins said.

He said that Griffin is likely to veto the extra $2.73 million and that it is unclear whether the Council has the necessary nine votes to override a veto. Griffin could not be reached to comment.

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