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DELAY SEEN IN PASSAGE OF BUDGET

City Council approval of a $15.6 million 1998-99 budget may not come until the eve of the March 31 deadline, Council president George A. Spinnegan said Monday.

With three Council members -- one who joined the body 2 1/2 months ago -- adamantly opposed, the lawmakers are wrestling with amendments to reduce the proposed 3.8 percent increase in real property levies.

A compromise may put the tax levy closer to two percent. The Council has a meeting scheduled for next Monday and the budget could be adopted at that time. The City Charter mandates that the spending plan must be in place by Tuesday (March 31).

At the start of Monday's regular meeting, Spinnegan criticized the three who voted against budget passage a week ago.

"The public should know that the three who voted 'no' claimed they needed more time. However, all three left early from meetings where final decisions were being made."

The three are ward Council members Andrew Lista, a newcomer who has led the fight against any tax increase, Franklin J. Battaglia and Rosemary Christian. Spinnegan defended the tax hike as needed to launch long-range plans to revive the downtown area. He said this spending will meet citizens' biggest complaints. Procedural failings forced the last-minute maneuvering.

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