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VILLAGE BUDGET PLAN WOULD HIKE TAXES 4.3 PERCENT

A $4.6 million budget that would hike taxes in the Village of Lancaster by 4.3 percent has been submitted by Mayor William G. Cansdale.

The tentative plan now goes to the Village Board which, if past form holds true, probably will cut spending somewhat, Cansdale said Wednesday.

The public hearing on the 1998-99 budget is set for 8:30 p.m. April 13, with state law requiring adoption by the end of April.

Cansdale's budget would increase the village tax rate by 46 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation -- from $10.70 to $11.16. Villagers also pay a Town of Lancaster tax rate of $2.99 -- $2.96 for the town's general fund and 3 cents for its highway fund.

In contrast to the 4.3 percent tax hike proposed, the mayor said taxes would go up by 94 percent if all departmental budget requests were granted. Those requests include construction of a new fire hall for about $2.3 million and the purchase of a $335,000 fire truck, Cansdale said.

The budget shows no pay raises for elected officials. Contracted raises are 3.6 percent for police and 3.9 percent for Department of Public Works employees, with non-union workers also getting 3.6 percent.

As for new capital projects, Cansdale said the board probably will consider a $350,000 public works project on Cotton Street in the Second Ward, but nothing is definite. Meanwhile, the mayor said his new budget continues putting $50,000 a year into a revolving fund for street paving and reconstruction.

The mayor said his budget plan, if approved, will result in Lancaster reducing its debt by $570,000 over a four-year period.

For the time being, no rate increases are budgeted for the village water and sewer funds, but that could change for the sewer fund, Cansdale noted. Water rates were hiked recently, but sewer rates have stayed the same for 12 years, which was criticized in a recent state audit.

Auditors faulted large operating deficits in the water and sewer funds, as well as the village years ago loaning money borrowed for various capital projects to the two debt-ridden funds -- but never paying back the loans.

The village last month announced a corrective plan aimed at fiscal shortcomings raised by the state audit and one last September by the village's outside accountants. The outside accountants said the sewer and water funds had a combined deficit of $591,284 last year and owed a total of $734,530 to other funds.

Cansdale has blamed the deficits on administrations in the late 1980s and early 1990s. His political opponents claim the mayor's party had the majority on the Village Board during much of that time, but the mayor's supporters dispute that.

Meanwhile, the corrective plan submitted to the state comptroller's office calls for writing off half the sewer and water fund debts in the 1998-99 budget and the remaining half the following year, allowing the village to rebuild its or surplus.

Under the mayor's tentative budget, the village would increase its tax levy -- the amount raised in taxes -- from $3,210,484 this year to $3,339,447 and appropriations from $4,576,197 to $4,645,060.

Cansdale said reasons for the 4.3 percent tax hike include the loss of about $800,000 in assessed valuation as the result of court challenges of assessments, lower revenue estimates to make them "more realistic" than in the past, and a $50,000 appropriation for an equipment reserve fund established to avoid bonding costs.

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