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Council trims proposed budget, reduces projected tax increase to 6.7% after hearing

After a 45-minute public hearing, the Common Council shaved $229,000 Wednesday from next year's proposed city budget, reducing the property tax increase to 6.7 percent.

The budget that remained, almost $20.4 million, is $660,000 higher than this year's.

Most of that increase -- $598,000 -- was attributed to higher employee fringe benefits, locked in by union contracts.

They can be reduced only by laying off workers, which the Council so far has not considered.

Mayor Michael W. Tucker had vowed that the 9.12 percent tax increase incorporated in the budget at the start of the evening would not stand when the final budget is adopted next Wednesday.

"I want to assure everyone that the budget we roll out next week isn't going to be anywhere near 9 percent," Tucker told the audience of about a dozen at the hearing.

Most of the spending cuts at the work session that followed were of the nickel-and-dime variety, as Aldermen David E. Blackley, D-1st Ward, led the Council through a long list of items he thought could be reduced. Some of the cuts were as little as $300.

Larger cuts included reductions of $30,000, or 50 percent, for new equipment in the Fire Department, leaving the decision on which items to drop to Fire Chief Thomas J. Passuite, and a $30,000 drop in the projected cost of garbage disposal, which was to have been $500,000.

The Council decided not to buy a $15,000 van for the dog control officer or a $6,200 four-wheel all-terrain vehicle to pull a drag across ball diamonds.

The aldermen decided to borrow $70,000 to buy two new packer bodies for garbage trucks and $28,500 to buy a new tree chipper, instead of paying for those out of next year's tax money.

The new $57,500-a-year streets superintendent job remains in the budget, which drew the fire of Diane M. Tuohey, Democratic candidate for alderman at large, during the hearing.

"We need to hire workers for our forestry crew," she said in calling for the position to be eliminated.

Noting that North Tonawanda does not plan to raise taxes next year, Doralyn Marshall, a 3rd Ward resident, said, "Maybe there's a leadership problem here. . . . This city has to do something to get a handle on the cost of those [Police and Fire] departments."

Thomas Lupo, president of the Lockport Professional Firefighters Association, said North Tonawanda has eight fewer firefighters than Lockport. He said the city billed $909,000 for ambulance calls last year but collected only $612,000.

"If we could improve our ambulance billing, we'd have a better shot at defraying the cost of the department," Lupo said.

The Council has barely discussed the water and sewer budgets, but Jacob Kern Jr. of South Transit Street zeroed in on them.

He condemned the city's practice of selling water to the Delphi Thermal and Interior plant at a discount. "I'm subsidizing the water at Delphi," he said.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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