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COUNCIL OKS BUDGET THAT HIKES TAXES BY 4.9 PERCENT FOR HOMEOWNERS
PLAN CUTS TWO POLICE POSITIONS, SLASHES LIBRARY BUDGET IN HALF

The City Council adopted a 2005 operating budget Wednesday that will raise taxes 4.9 percent for homeowners and 4.7 for nonresidential property owners, cut two police officer positions, one engineering aide and slash the library's budget in half.

The spending plan eliminates $422,326 from Mayor Vincenzo V. Anello's proposed $7.1 million budget.

The city's Engineering Department will be crippled if the aide is not restored, said department head Robert Buzzelli, who was one of the few city leaders who addressed the Council after the vote.

His department conducts surveying for roads, sewer and water lines with a three-member crew, including the aide.

"You've effectively forced our field work to a crawl."

Police Superintendent John R. Chella said the two new police patrol positions cut from the budget were meant to staff the Highland Avenue Substation.

Chella was told by the Community Development Department that he had to hire two new officers in order to receive a state grant for the substation, he said.

Council Chairman Charles A. Walker doesn't believe it's a requirement, and Council members said they want Chella to make do with the one officer who staffs the station now.

If the grant does require two additional officers and the cuts remain in the budget, Chella said he would be forced to cut two patrol officers to make up the difference, he said.

Members of the Niagara Falls Library board of directors were on hand for the budget vote, which may close the library in the summer.

The library will now seek a referendum in the spring to form a special district library that, if successful, would impose a separate library tax on city residents in order to keep the library open.

If that vote fails, the library would close in June.

The budget will now go to Anello's office, where any vetoes to the Council's cuts must be submitted by Wednesday.

The Council needs four members to override a mayoral veto, and any changes must be made by Dec. 15.

Walker said even after the presentations made by department heads he would never consider changing any of the cuts he voted for.

In another matter, Councilwoman Candra Thomason was not present during the vote to approve the budget and became irate after the meeting that they did not wait for her.

Council members said they waited 20 minutes; when she did not show up, they took a vote.

Thomason said she had called the Council office to let them know she would be late.

She arrived a few minutes after the vote was taken.

gnorheim@buffnews.com

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