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HEARING PLANNED ON 2005 BUDGET, TAX HIKE

Residents have one more chance this month to make their feelings known on a proposed budget that would hike their taxes by 3 percent.

A public hearing on the 2005 budget proposal of $26.7 million is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Nov. 22 in City Council Chambers of City Hall. The council expects to vote on the budget Dec. 6.

Monday, the Council's Finance Committee presented its budget recommendations, including more than $100,000 in cuts to Mayor Sam Teresi's initial proposal. The cuts mean the property tax increase will be $1.72 per $1,000 of assessed value, a 3 percent hike. Teresi's plan had called for a 5.8 percent increase.

After considering making further cuts to the budget of James Prendergast Library, the Council agreed to leave the library alone -- a decision that pleased Library Director Catherine Way.

"It means we don't have to think about cutting hours or reducing staff or materials budgets any further. So let's just hope that it stands," she said.

Council members also discussed a proposal to hire four city firefighters, a move that was said to be capable of saving the city about $9,000. According to Councilman James Ventura, Deputy Fire Chief Lance Hedlund has told the Finance Committee that it would cost $156,936.51 to hire the new firefighters but that the city would save money in overtime and other costs.

"This could be a win-win for everyone," Ventura said.

Another budget item under discussion was how much to take out of the fund balance to lower the tax increase next year.

Teresi and City Comptroller Joe Bellito both believe the balance should be left at $1 million, while Finance Committee Chairman Jim McElrath thought more of the fund balance could be used to offset the tax increase.

McElrath said that discussions with Bellito took place last week.

"He brought those concerns to our attention, and so we compromised on that," he said. "In other words, he didn't want to take anything out of (the fund balance), and neither did the mayor. They wanted to leave it at a million (dollars). We tried to compromise and go with (taking out) $100,000 rather than $200,000."

Bellito maintained that taking any more out of the fund balance next year could seriously jeopardize the budget-making process for 2006. He felt that the money could be better spent on some upcoming capital projects.

Council members ultimately agreed to use $100,000 more of the fund balance than in the mayor's proposal, dropping the total fund balance to $900,000.

In the next several years, Jamestown will need to purchase bonds for several items, including new equipment for the Department of Public Works and $145 million for a new power generating station.

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