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NEW BUDGET IS SURE TO INCLUDE A TAX INCREASE, SUPERVISOR SAYS

Because they set their new tax rates in September, two school districts were the first to feel the pinch of plummeting property values on the west side of Cheektowaga.

Now it's the town's turn.

Cheektowaga Supervisor Dennis H. Gabryszak on Tuesday all but guaranteed that his 2001 budget, due to be filed Friday, will propose a town tax increase next year, the first since 1998.

One reason, he said, is the "assessment equity program" this year that chopped about $11.2 million in taxable assessed valuation from the town's $2.1 billion tax base. The $11.2 million represents almost $150,000 in tax revenue.

The partial property revaluation confirmed a fact of life in many of Western New York's older neighborhoods in recent years -- declining property values.

In Cheektowaga, those neighborhoods are primarily on the west side of town, adjacent to the City of Buffalo.

A 5 percent loss in assessed valuation caused an estimated tax increase of $1.62 to jump to $3.02 per $1,000 of assessed valuation in the Cheektowaga-Sloan School District.

In the Cheektowaga Central School District, officials said they would have had to raise their rate another 20 cents if not for an unexpected windfall in state special-education money.

Gabryszak said other obstacles facing town budget planners include falling Town Court revenues and pay raises in union contracts -- 3.5 percent for most blue- and white-collar employees, 2.95 percent for police and 2.75 percent for supervisory personnel.

"The courts are projecting $150,000 less in revenues next year, and they were down substantially this year," he said.

The year's budget process began with the submission of departmental requests, which Gabryszak said would have required a 30 percent tax increase to fund.

"We've gotten it down to about 14 percent in the town outside the villages. But, of course, that's too high, so we've got a lot of work to do before Friday," Gabryszak said Tuesday.

The supervisor said the corresponding tax rate projections for the villages in the town have not yet been calculated. Cheektowaga encompasses all of Sloan, more than half of Depew and a tiny piece of Williamsville.

Cheektowaga's last tax increase was 22 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation in 1998. Then came tax cuts of 21 and 19 cents in 1999 and 2000, respectively, even though overall spending was up in both years.

Both tax cuts were keyed by generous doses of budget surplus -- about $2.8 million in 1999 and about $3.2 million last year. But Gabryszak said the town can afford to use only about $2 million in surplus next year.

"Before Friday, we'll be looking at overtime, equipment expenditures and building needs -- what absolutely has to be done and what can be postponed," Gabryszak said. He added that officials also will discuss ways to increase revenues and freeze current-year expenditures where possible.

Once he submits his tentative budget, the Town Board will have several weeks to make changes before a public hearing in November.

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