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Mayor Thomas C. Sullivan hinted Wednesday at possibly accepting a tax increase for 2001 in order to hire new employees he said would improve economic conditions and quality of life in the city.

The Common Council will resume work next week on what is now a $23.58 million budget for 2001. Council President John T. Pitrello, D-At Large, said the session at 5:30 p.m. Monday will focus on the water and sewer budgets.

The budget as it now stands would increase property taxes by 7.44 percent. Under the City Charter, a budget must be adopted by Oct. 4.

In his opening statement during Wednesday's public hearing on the proposed budget, Sullivan did not directly endorse a tax increase. "If we move in the direction that we all have been asking for so many years," he said, "the time is now to make a very unpopular decision."

Sullivan defended three new positions in the budget, a grant-funded community-development assistant "to grow our struggling tax base" and a new building inspector and a clerical worker in that department.

With someone to do the paperwork and an extra inspector, Sullivan said it will be easier to enforce the building codes.

"We must now stop the deterioration of our neighborhoods and find the means to bring them back to what they once were," the mayor said. "No one in Lockport deserves any less."

He said the city needs to budget for two new union contracts "that will justly match the other collective-bargaining units. . . . This is certainly a large percentage of the tax increase we must accommodate. The remaining portion will give us the opportunity to move forward with what we hope and envision to be a better Lockport."

During the hearing, former Alderwoman Phyllis J. Green told the Council that it ought to budget more money for parks and playground equipment. There is only $3,500 in the budget for those items.

"We do need new equipment for our children. We cannot continue to say nothing for equipment," Green said.

Jacob Kern Jr. of South Transit Street suggested that the money could be found by wiping out the city's planned $120,000 allocation to the Dale Association, operator of the Lockport Senior Citizens Centre.

"They shouldn't get anything if you can't get anything for our youth to get them off the streets," said Kern, 72. "They're having fun at our expense. Cut them out. Give it to the kids."

Meanwhile, Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano announced that the Council will meet Wednesday with Chief Building Inspector James P. McCann and Deputy Corporation Counsel Deborah Walker-DeWitt regarding possible condemnation of the Washington Heights apartment complex.

It's vacant and was sold earlier this year, but Alderman Scott R. Elliott, D-1st Ward, said the Washington Street site "is in worse condition that it was in the spring."

"There's no way they're going to clean that up," Pitrello said.

Alderman Mark J. Dudkowski, D-3rd Ward, said condemnation "would show people we're serious about cleaning the city up."

The Council also decided to vote Oct. 4 on directing Ottaviano to research the legality of a five-year tax break for property owners who reconvert multiple dwellings into single-family homes, a plan languishing in committee since Elliott proposed it in June.

In other action, the Council:

Purchased a new ambulance for $101,000 from J.W. Carney Inc. of Tonawanda.

Accepted a $400,000 federal grant that Community Development Director William J. Evert said would assist up to 20 first-time home-buyers.

Scheduled a public hearing for Oct. 4 on a rezoning of the Lockport Motel property on South Transit Street to allow for expansion of that motel.

Held a brief public hearing on the use of a $57,000 federal law enforcement grant that will be used for technology and overtime for investigators of violent crime.

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