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HEARING SET FOR BUDGET WITH HIGHER TAXES

The Common Council will conduct a public hearing at 7 p.m. Wednesday on a proposed 2001 budget that would increase property taxes by 7.44 percent.

During a two-hour work session Monday, the aldermen made it clear that they aren't satisfied and will continue to trim the budget before adopting it, which under the City Charter must take place on Oct. 4 this year.

"At 7 percent, we need to find about half a million dollars (to cut)," said Alderman Mark J. Dudkowski, D-3rd Ward. He made it clear that he wants no tax increase at all.

During a series of five work sessions since Labor Day, the aldermen cut the departments' general fund spending requests by more than $2 million. The total in that fund, which is the only part of the budget financed by property taxes, currently stands at $17,112,437.

That would be a spending increase of 4.13 percent over 2000. However, Budget Director Richard P. Mullaney noted that preliminary figures from the city assessor's office indicated Lockport's tax base shrank by about $2 million in the past year.

Mullaney blamed the decrease in the total assessed value of city property on state actions such as lowering the special assessment on railroad property. He also said the figure isn't final and could still increase.

But while it's down, it pushes the property tax rate up.

The budget includes hiring a new building inspector and a new typist in the Building Inspection Department. However, the Council axed a request for four more firefighters and major equipment requests.

The budget assumes a $215,000 increase in the city's sales tax receipts and a $95,000 jump in ambulance billings.

Mullaney said the budget does not assume that increases in ambulance fees proposed by the Fire Department will be adopted.

"They seem to be collecting better," he said.

As for sales tax, Mullaney admitted that projecting an increase is somewhat risky. "The economy's going great guns now," he said. "We can only hope that 2001's economy is strong."

The Council labored over the sewer and water budgets Monday but ended up making no more changes in the sewer budget and cutting another $38,500 from the water fund request, which had already been cut by $179,257 in previous meetings.

The water fund now stands at $3,080,174, which would be a 4.84 percent spending increase over this year.

The sewer fund proposal is now at $3,395,518, which would be a spending reduction of 1.61 percent from 2000. The Council already subjected Director of Utilities Michael W. Diel's spending requests to some heavy cutting.

Three new positions sought by Diel were cut in a Saturday work session, and Diel's request for $403,758 worth of new sewer equipment was crushed down to $10,700. In all, $775,773 of sewer spending requests have hit the cutting-room floor.

Alderman John Lombardi III, chairman of the Council's Water and Sewer Committee, Monday presented his colleagues Diel's appeals for restoring the positions, but the Council was not sympathetic.

"I vote 'no' on all reinstatements," Dudkowski said. "These guys are going to tell you they need every penny they ask for, and if they don't get it, their operation's going to fall. Well, guess what? It doesn't. It keeps going year to year."

"These are just explanations, guys," Lombardi said. "I know we're supposed to be going the other way. . . . I'm representing the department."

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