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The town's $7.2 million tentative budget for 1998 would reduce special district taxes by about 8 percent for most property owners, but it would impose a sewer tax for the first time in the Belden Center neighborhood, according to Supervisor Steven C. Richards.

The supervisor submitted his tentative budget of $7,245,516 to the Town Board Friday afternoon. It calls for a spending increase of just over one-tenth of a percent more than this year's budget.

The town levies no general town tax because revenues from the countywide sales tax cover the general budget. The town does, however, levy special district taxes for such services as sewage treatment.

The 8 percent reduction in that tax rate "was accomplished by sound fiscal management and the cooperation of all department heads, Town Board members and the employees of the Town of Niagara," Richards said.

The budget would continue to provide for year-round neighborhood police patrols, as well as funds to modernize playgrounds and recreation programs.

"I also added $100,000 to our community center capital fund to ensure that our new center becomes a reality in the near future, and allotted $100,000 to reduce the county tax levy again this year," he said.

Under Richards' proposal, the 1998 homestead tax would be $5.32 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation for special district taxes, or 51 cents less than the current plan. Non-homestead owners would pay $6.93 cents per $1,000, or 65 cents less.

The big reason for the reductions, Richards said, is that the town has paid off bonds, and therefore taxpayers do not have to pay as many outstanding debts as they have in the past. In addition, he said that by adding residents of the Belden Center area to the town's sewer district, the rest of the residents will pay lower sewer taxes.

"The Town of Niagara and the City of Niagara Falls conducted a joint study during 1997 called the Garfield Shed Sewer Study. The main purpose of the study was to find out where all of the excess flow is coming from that is entering the city's main sewer lines on Hyde Park Boulevard." The study showed that the Belden Center area was responsible, he said.

The results of the study, along with a complaint filed by the county Health Department, will force the town to do immediate remedial work there to satisfy the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Niagara County Health Department requirements, he said.

During the investigation, Richards said that none of the 393 parcels in the Belden Center area has been charged any taxes for the town sewer district. The total assessed value of the 393 parcels is more than $9 million.

"This is the only area in the town that has not been paying a sewer tax, while the rest of us have been paying $3.49 per $1,000 as a sewer tax. They have been paying nothing while using and benefiting from the townwide system."

Richards said he could not answer why these residents have not been paying sewer fees. The town has two choices: One would be to declare the area a special district and charge each home a special district tax -- resulting in a special tax of about $758 a year for 20 years. "This special tax would devastate their property values, not to mention the financial burden it would place on them."

The other choice would be to allow them to come into the town's sewer district and charge them the same rate as every other user: $3.49 per $1,000. Although he said most town people would probably prefer to create a special district for the neighborhood, Richards said he would like to place them on the town's rolls.

"That appears to be the only viable way, cost-wise, for the residents," said Councilman Marc M. Carpenter.

The supervisor's recommended budget is subject to amendment and adoption by the Town Board.

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