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ELIA'S BUDGET PROPOSAL CUTS JOBS, INCREASES TAXES

Mayor Irene J. Elia on Monday proposed the elimination of 40 jobs, including 14 firefighters and 12 police officers, and the closing of four recreational facilities in her $107.5 million 2002 spending plan.

The budget would carry a 3.9 percent tax increase for homeowners and a 6.4 percent decrease for businesses, unless the Council goes along with Elia's recommendation to defer the 10 percent adjustment between homestead and non-homestead rates approved in July.

If the Council agrees, homeowners would see a tax increase of less than 1 percent and commercial properties a 3 percent decrease. The Council has been adjusting the homestead and non-homestead rates for several years with the intent of phasing out the two-tier tax system and eventually charging one tax rate for both residential and commercial properties.

As it stood Monday, Elia's plan -- without the deferral -- would raise the homestead tax rate to $15.71 per $1,000 of assessed valuation (from $15.11) and lower the non-homestead rate to $28.66 (from $30.63). If the Council defers this year's adjustment, the rates would be $15.20 for homestead and $29.69 for businesses.

"This proposal of a one-year deferment of the equalization plan will allow for an evenly divided tax burden for all taxpayers in Niagara Falls while honoring our commitment to non-homestead taxpayers for equitable treatment," Elia said.

Elia's budget proposes closing the Hyde Park Ice Pavilion, Centennial Ice Rink at Lackey Plaza, the LaSalle Facility where Police Athletic League and city youth recreational programs are held and the Wintergarden. Garbage pickup, weekly recycling and snow removal would remain at the same levels as this year, administration officials said.

"Rest assured that despite staffing reductions in virtually every city department, every effort will be made to provide our residents and businesses with the quality services they have come to expect," Elia said in her budget message.

The ice pavilion would remain open until the end of the season in April for leagues that already have booked ice time, according to Paul G. Colangelo, parks and public works director. Proposals for private operation of the pavilion are being requested. Lackey Plaza will not open for the season.

PAL would lose its home with the closing of the LaSalle Facility, and the 18 hours of youth recreational programs offered by the city there would be terminated, Colangelo said. The Senior Citizen Center at the Colvin Boulevard complex would not be affected, according to City Controller Maria C. Brown.

City Administrator Albert T. Joseph said engineering studies are being conducted to determine the cost of various options, including removal or relocation, for the Wintergarden. Joseph said USA Niagara Development may help fund the project as part of its downtown redevelopment plan.

There would be a net savings of $1,676,051, minus severance pay and buyouts, from the elimination of positions in the general fund.

Actual layoffs would total about 26.5 in the general fund, since some positions are vacant. Actual layoffs include nine firefighters, seven police officers, a crime analyst and assistant, a city marshal, the management information systems manager, the chief building inspector, operation foreman in parks, the safety director, three maintenance workers and a mechanic.

In addition, the water and sewer departments -- which have no effect on the tax rate -- would lose seven positions, six of which are vacant.

If there are retirements in 2002, the number of layoffs could change, Joseph said.

He said the budget contains two new positions, a $45,000 budget director and a $40,000 deputy director of parks and public works. He said the state finance and comptroller's offices have advised the city it needs more checks and balances over the budget.

He said Elia's administration has been trying to restore the parks and public works deputy since it came into office because it is essential that the largest city department have a deputy who is not a member of the union.

The Council scheduled a public hearing on the budget for 7 p.m. Nov. 5. It will begin its review of the budget at 5 p.m. next Tuesday.

e-mail: jscelsa@buffnews.com

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