Although members of the Tonawanda Common Council cut the proposed tax increase for the city's 2006 budget nearly in half, they reluctantly adopted the spending plan Wednesday, acknowledging that the city is quickly running out of options on making ends meet.
In the last two weeks, the Council has cut $356,000 out of Mayor Jack E. Gallagher's proposed $16.1 million budget, lowering the estimated tax increase from 9.76 percent to 5.16 percent.
Among the major cuts were salary adjustments to police, fire and seasonal appointments, totaling $115,000, and $160,000 in savings on health premiums after the fire employee union agreed to use one health insurance carrier. Much of the other savings came from what Council President Carleton R. Zeisz called "nickel-and-diming."
"Without making cuts to departments that would alter services, there really isn't anywhere else to cut," Zeisz said.
"We've basically done all we can to reduce [the increase] in half," Councilman James P. Kossow said.
Still, the Council was apprehensive about the tax increase. Several Council members hoped that they would be able to get the tax rate increase down to the range of 4 percent. The Council ran out of time to work on the budget, because the mayor's proposal would have become effective today had the Council not adopted its revised plan.
"This disappoints me, but I'm not allowing a 10 percent tax increase," Councilwoman Colleen R. Perkins said.
Residents attending the meeting also expressed frustration. "This is a dying city," Edward Gebera said. "It will be a dying city, unless something changes."
The budget was unanimously adopted by a 4-0 vote. Councilman Blake Boyle, who told other members he would be at the meeting, was unable to attend the budget vote because he was working.
Zeisz said the city has come to a point where there are only two ways to ease the tax burden on residents -- either earn more revenue through economic development or change the structure of the city's departments.
"This is the survivor budget," Perkins said. "We're only getting through one year at a time."