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DELAYING OF TAX-BURDEN SHIFT IS BACKED BY SOME IN COUNCIL

Some City Council members Tuesday supported Mayor Irene J. Elia's request to defer part of the shift of the tax burden from businesses to homeowners this year, while others said they need more information.

The difference for homeowners would be a 70-cent increase or a 9-cent increase on the current rate of $15.11 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

Elia's 2002 spending plan of $107.5 million 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 10 percent of the shift from non-homestead to homestead rates.

City Administrator Albert T. Joseph said the deferment would apply to one-third of the 30 percent shift the Council approved in July.

Elia said that with a one-time-only deferment, homeowners would see a tax increase of less than 1 percent, while commercial properties would still receive a 3 percent decrease.

The current non-homestead rate is $30.63 per $1,000. A 6.4 percent decrease would lower it to $28.66, according to Elia's budget. A 3 percent decrease would make it $29.69.

The Council started adjusting the homestead and non-homestead rates in 1998 with the intent of phasing out the two-tier tax system and eventually charging one tax rate for both residential and commercial properties.

Chairman Anthony F. Quaranto and Councilman Joseph R. D'Angelo said they could go along with the mayor's request to give taxpayers a break. Councilman John G. Accardo and Councilwoman Frances M. Iusi said they will need to look more closely at the impact of the move and the entire budget before they decide.

Councilman Charles A. Walker said he thinks the city has to keep moving forward on equalizing the tax rates.

"It's not that big a difference for the homeowners, and bringing the taxes down for the businesses is very important," he said.

Other Council members could not be reached to comment.

Fred Caso, vice president of the Niagara Falls Chamber of Commerce, which lobbied for a return to a uniform tax rate for many years, said the board of directors would probably discuss the issue when it meets Thursday morning.

He said he couldn't predict the Chamber's stand on Elia's request or her proposed budget. But, he said, "The encouraging thing is the city is making strides to cut recurring expenses."

Elia's spending plan would cut 40 jobs and close four recreational facilities. Elia said her overall proposed budget is up by $458,413, or less than 1 percent over this year's plan. The 2002 proposed general fund budget of $54.99 million is down $490,059 from this year's. The amount to be raised by taxes remains the same at $24.89 million.

"We're not asking for another penny on the tax levy," Joseph said.

The proposed budget calls for the elimination of five unfilled police positions and the layoff of seven newly hired officers, Police Superintendent Christopher J. Carlin said Tuesday.

Though he is hoping things will change, Carlin said the worst-case scenario would mean that seven of the nine new officers who graduated from the Niagara County Law Enforcement Academy this summer and are now working on road patrol will have to be laid off next year.

e-mail: jscelsa@buffnews.com

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