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COUNCIL ADOPTS BUDGET FREEZING TAX RATE

Rejecting a last-minute pitch for a tax cut, the Lockport Common Council adopted a 1998 budget Wednesday that freezes the property tax rate.

The budget vote was 6-2 in favor, although after the meeting, Alderman Brian J. Keleher, D-5th Ward, who voted yes, said he meant to vote no, but failed to do because of "confusion" and "miscommunication with another alderman in a Democratic caucus."

Keleher was one of two aldermen who expressed support in a premeeting work session for a tax cut proposed by Alderwoman Cyd L. Bennett, R-6th Ward, who is running for mayor on three minor-party lines.

The two votes against the budget came from Miss Bennett and Alderman Charles J. Montedoro, D-1st Ward.

The total budget of $22,011,601 represents an increase of $476,769 from this year. The city will apply $526,800 from the surplus.

The Council had agreed Tuesday on a budget that would leave the tax rate at $12.21 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. However, Miss Bennett presented her colleagues with a proposal to spend more of the surplus to reduce taxes.

Using an estimate obtained from City Clerk and Budget Director Richard P. Mullaney of $1,338,000 for the city's surplus, Miss Bennett said that reducing the surplus to $1,100,580, or 5 percent of the budget, would drop taxes 3.95 percent.

Mullaney pointed out that although the general fund is healthy, the water and sewer funds are both in the red. The 1998 sewer fund budget the Council adopted contains a deficit of $109,911.

Mullaney said the sewer fund will lose $155,000 this year, and the water fund will be $95,000 in the hole. That red ink must be made up from the surplus.

Council President Michael W. Tucker, R- 7th Ward, said, "The fund balance has to cover all three funds. . . . We all would like to have a reduction in taxes. I don't know if that's responsible to do."

In other matters, the Council approved $6,060,000 in applications for state grants for sewer projects, and a $375,000 grant application for Altro Park improvements.

Director of Engineering Allan R. Rutter said the sewer grants would cover 85 percent of the costs of the planned projects, while the park grant would cover 50 percent.

The proposed sewer work includes a combined sewer overflow program. Director of Utilities Michael Diel said about 70 percent of the city has sanitary and storm sewage in the same pipes, and overflow during heavy rain sends untreated sewage into Eighteenmile Creek.

The plan would not install much new pipe, but would raise the overflow points, Diel said.

The project also includes an increase of about 25 percent in the maximum capacity of the wastewater treatment plant, a pump station improvement on Lincoln Avenue, and new or improved sewers on Spring, Vine, North, Ohio, and Simonds streets.

The Council also approved the preparation of plans for a new sewer on Columbia Street, which would be paid for through a local assessment, not a state grant. Residents on the street petitioned for it.

The Altro Park grant would pay for a long list of improvements there, said Alderwoman Phyllis J. Green, R-2nd Ward.

They include improved playground equipment, including some especially for handicapped children; a roller hockey court, resurfaced basketball courts, a walking path, new lighting, and perhaps a new building to house the Youth and Recreation Department, now in City Hall.

In other action Wednesday, the Council:

Set an Oct. 15 public hearing on a law giving the city the power to order a landlord to evict a tenant involved in crime.

Approved a $235,000 bond issue to pay for two new garbage trucks.

Tabled a proposal by Keleher to give the Council power to veto decisions on traffic signs and signals made by the Traffic Control Devices Committee.

Rejected a $77,944 bid for a new Fire Department radio console from Motorola Inc. The Council also repealed a June 18 measure making Motorola the standard brand for Fire Department radio gear.

Fire Chief Thomas Passuite said the bid was $15,000 over budget. He said the specifications will be changed and new bids sought.

Authorized the seeking of bids for installation of 10 diagonal parking spaces on Elm Street, and demolition of a vacant house at 108 Gooding St.

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