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CHAMBER URGES CITY TO CURB SPENDING, CUT TAXES

Two days before the release of Mayor James C. Galie's 1999 budget, the Niagara Falls Area Chamber of Commerce Tuesday renewed its annual appeal for the city to curb spending, reduce taxes and reform the two-tier taxing system.

Members of the City Council, in turn, asked that chamber members apply their collective expertise to come up with creative solutions to the city's mounting fiscal problems.

Members of the Council met with the chamber's Government Relations Committee in the chamber offices. A similar meeting was held with city administrator Anthony J. Restaino, according to Steven Brown, chairman of the Board of Directors.

Chamber members are "quite concerned," Brown said. The high level of taxes is seen as a major deterrent to attracting investment and jobs. They feel the answer to the city's problems is reducing costs, not raising taxes.

They also are seeking the elimination of the two-tier tax system under which businesses pay $30.73 per $1,000 of assessed valuation compared to the $13.07 rate for homeowners. They said the city has to be competitive to keep businesses from moving into neighboring towns, where tax rates are lower.

Council Chairman Vince V. Anello and Councilman Guy T. Sottile said one of the problems is that the city administration doesn't stay within the budget the Council sets. One of the examples used was the Modern Disposal Services Inc. sanitation contract, which Council members were told Monday will go about $350,000 over its $2 million budget allocation this year.

Councilwoman Barbara A. Geracitano said she always has believed the only way to close the gap between the homestead and non-homestead rate is to expand the tax base. She said the city has failed to market itself effectively to attract new businesses. She said she has been disappointed by the results of joint marketing efforts by the city and chamber. She also said the city has to look at ways to collect from tax exempt properties for services they receive at the same level as those that pay taxes.

Councilman Frank A. Soda said homestead -- non-homestead problem is a classic "chicken and the egg" issue. Council members say the tax base has to increase in order to equalize the rates, but business people say the base won't increase because the rate is too high. Soda, who is not seeking re-election, said he is committed to getting discussions on the issue going before he leaves office in December. Councilwoman Connie M. Lozinsky, who has not announced her intentions on running for re-election yet, also is working on the issue, Soda said.

Council members were asked to state their goals and objectives for the 1999 budget.

Councilman John G. Accardo said the Council is placed in a reactionary position because it is not privy to the mayor's thinking or his budget plan before its presentation. Last year, he said, the Council was forced to find $1.3 million to keep the public library and Wintergarden open because Galie proposed closing them.

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