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BUDGET APPROVED WITH 7.53% TAX HIKE

The Lockport Common Council on Wednesday approved a 7.53 percent property tax increase for 2005.

The aldermen unanimously approved a city budget that increased the tax rate by $1.04 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. That's an increase of $104 a year for a home assessed at $100,000.

The hike was included in the $19.7 million general fund budget that includes three years worth of pay increases for city employees, two years of retroactive lump-sum increases and further raises for 2005.

The Council previously ratified contracts with four city unions embodying the raises. All the unions' last contracts ran out at the end of 2002, so the new deals include retroactive pay for 2003 and 2004.

Spending on salaries represents an increase of more than $1.4 million, while overall spending increased less than $1.25 million. The new contracts enable the city to save money on health insurance through a single-carrier plan. The cost of fringe benefits falls by more than $500,000.

Mayor Michael W. Tucker said the raises meant a tax increase could not be avoided, but he said the city is looking at ways to avoid future tax hikes.

"Obviously the time has come for the city to do some things differently," he said. Among the options are a garbage district that would see tax-exempt properties paying a user fee and downtown businesses that receive daily trash service paying extra.

The city is also considering new water meters that could increase revenue through greater accuracy. Water and sewer bills will rise in 2005, under terms of multiyear packages adopted in previous years.

Water rates will rise 10 cents per 100 cubic feet of water used, in line with a 2002 vote by the Council. Sewer rates will go up $2.52 per quarter, under terms of a 2001 resolution. Both rate packages expire in 2005.

The Council also voted Wednesday for emergency repairs to the wastewater treatment plant. The city has signed a state Department of Environmental Conservation consent order because of improper discharges from the plant.

Alderman Patrick W. Schrader, D-4th Ward, said the city hopes to obtain future state grants and low-interest loans for sewer plant repairs.

In other action, the Council received Tucker's reappointment of Richard Blackley and Michael Hare to new three-year terms on the Zoning Board of Appeals and Patricia McGrath to a five-year term on the Board of Assessment Review.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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