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West Seneca taxpayers will see a 2-cent drop in 1998 taxes, but should continue to pay $12.55 per $1,000 of assessed valuation through the year 2000, Supervisor Paul T. Clark said in releasing his 1998 budget Wednesday.

But Councilman Christopher P. Walsh and Councilwoman Barbara A. Rudnicki are claiming credit for the tax break. Last spring they swore to campaign for a three-year town tax freeze.

Their move was part of the primary campaign against endorsed Democrats Timothy Wroblewski and Vincent Graber Jr. whom Walsh and Rudnicki will face next month without Democrat endorsement.

"Hopefully West Seneca assessment challenges have peaked and development either on the books or in planning stages will likely increase taxable valuation in the future," Clark said.

His budget shows total spending of $15,437,561, up $331,000 from this year, and a highway budget of $6,232,235, up $317,683.

It credits the ability to lower taxes slightly, in part, to a net gain of $6.5 million in assessed valuation. The town really gained $15.6 million in new or improved construction last year, but that was reduced by $4.7 million in court-ordered adjustments for National Fuel, Fleet Bank and Conrail properties among others; $2.5 million in contested assessments; and $1.9 million in breaks granted senior citizens.

"Gilloogly Chevrolet is going through a major remodeling. We have two new subdivisions coming in and a variety of other commercial properties on line, so I believe we'll continue to see growth in the next three year," Clark said.

The only major assessment challenge is from the Pyramid Cos., which are seeking a further reduction on vacant land and buildings on the site of the former Seneca Mall.

Town services won't suffer during the three-year tax freeze, Clark said, although police and and blue-collar workers are currently negotiating new contracts. Other municipal employee contracts are up for renewal at the end of this year.

Next year, Clark said, estimated town revenues from fees, sales taxes and various federal, state and county aid formulas will rise by $341,075, for a net tax levy of $7,464,796, a 6 cent decrease in the tax rate. Highway revenues are smaller, so $5,456,227 is to be raised by taxes, adding $5.30 for a total town tax rate rate of $12.55 per $1,000.

In setting his budget, Clark will spend $200,000 of the "tax stabilization fund" set up three years ago. This will leave $300,000 in the fund to cushion any losses in the tax base.

Mrs. Rudnicki and Walsh claim Clark has overseen "a 20 percent" tax rise from 1993 through this year with the tax rate rising to $12.57 from $11.99. Clark says the tax hikes have averaged out to "just 1 percent per year over eight years" -- but he's counting the years from 1993 through 2000 to obtain that average.

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