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COUNCIL POISED TO ADOPT BUDGET HOLDING TAX LINE

The Common Council was to vote late today on a 1998 budget that will leave the city's property tax rate at $12.21 per $1,000 of assessed valuation -- the same as this year.

The budget of $22,011,600 was settled in a brief Council work session Tuesday. Agreement on the spending plan was unanimous.

It represents an increase of 2.21 percent, or $476,768, from the current budget.

Alderman Jacob S. Michaels, D-4th Ward, chairman of the Council's Finance Committee, credited a team spirit among the aldermen and the members of the Board of Equalization and Assessment, headed by Mayor Kenneth D. Swan, which estimates revenues.

"With all 12 people working together, we were able to get to where we are. A zero tax increase was everyone's goal," Michaels said.

"The taxpayers are the winners here," said Council President Michael W. Tucker, R-7th Ward. "We've got a good, reasonable, responsible budget."

The budget was reduced $166,084 from the amount presented at a public hearing Sept. 17. City Clerk and Budget Director Richard P. Mullaney said the largest single item cut was a $146,000 retirement buyout package. As for the rest, "They did a little whittling," Mullaney said.

The budget contains no major capital purchases, no layoffs, and only one new job, a motor equipment operator position in the Water Department.

The zero tax increase was achieved by hiking revenue estimates $154,200; raising the amount appropriated from the city's surplus to $529,000 from $387,500; and cutting half of one police officer's salary.

The latter is for a position held by Officer Douglas Wallace, who suffered a serious back injury in the line of duty two years ago, and whose retirement on state disability is expected to be made final in the first half of 1998. His job has already been taken by a rookie officer.

City Treasurer James W. Ashcraft Jr. said he estimates the city will finish 1997 in the black by about $140,000. He said the city will have a surplus of about $1.2 million at the end of this year.

The Council did decide to restore $2,000 for an employee assistance program for workers with drug or alcohol problems, and $2,500 for the Niagara Community Action Program.

The latter item produced the only controversy of the meeting. It was championed by Alderwoman Cyd L. Bennett, R-6th Ward, who brought two NiaCAP officials to Tuesday's meeting to refute a statement by Swan that city residents referred to the agency received no help.

Carol Palumbo, head of NiaCAP's Lockport office, said 335 city residents were served by the agency in the past year. "I cannot believe the lack of compassion showed by (Swan)," Miss Bennett said. "I cannot believe he would not be concerned with a program that benefits so many citizens."

Swan told Miss Bennett, "I have no comments. I don't have the same enthusiasm for this you do."

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