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Though the Niagara County Refuse Disposal District's spending will drop by nearly two-thirds in 2001, the property tax to support it will be reduced by less than half of 1 percent.

The tax added 9 to 12 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation to the 2000 county tax bills of county residents except the towns of Cambria, Newfane, Niagara and Wilson.

The proposed budget sent to the County Legislature by the Refuse District board totals $1,203,972. That's a decrease of $2,023,550, or 62.7 percent, from this year's model.

But the amount to be collected in property taxes in the member municipalities -- all three cities and eight of the 12 towns -- is down 0.41 percent.

This year's levy was $614,022; next year's would be $611,472, the budget says.

District Director Richard P. Pope explained that the reason for the giant spending reduction is that "We've finished the cleanup at the North Tonawanda-Wheatfield landfill."

With that $10 million Superfund capping of the 66-acre landfill wrapped up, the budget reflects a decrease in expenses. Only $130,683 is budgeted for Wheatfield use in 2001, mostly for leftover contractual expenses. But most of the property tax, first levied for 1999, wasn't earmarked for that project.

The tax resulted from the need to repair caps on two closed landfills in Lockport, dubbed Landfills 1 and 2.

The caps, installed in the 1980s, have been deteriorating and leaking. The county expects to be faced with a bill of up to $12 million for a new cap on Landfill 1 within a couple of years; a consent order is being negotiated with the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

In the meantime, patchwork on the caps has continued. Spending for Landfill 1 upkeep is projected to rise by 41.4 percent in 2001, while the less urgent Landfill 2 maintenance cost will rise by 5.8 percent. Those costs, totaling $453,929 for Landfill 1 and $294,523 for Landfill 2, will be covered entirely by property tax, as will the remaining Wheatfield expenses.

These will be offset in part by a projected profit of $267,663 from the district's only remaining active landfill, the construction and demolition landfill in Lockport, adjoining Landfills 1 and 2.

Cambria, Newfane, the Town of Niagara and Wilson are exempt from the Refuse District tax because those towns never joined the district when it was formed about 30 years ago.

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