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Falls Council overrides all vetoes, aiding homeowners Homestead tax rate falls, but businesses face 3.3% increase

The City Council easily overrode all of Mayor Vince Anello's vetoes Monday and adopted an $85.3 million operating budget for 2007 that could be bittersweet news for local taxpayers.

The spending plan means that homeowners will get a 4.4 percent tax break next year, with a homestead rate of $16.64 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, which is down by 86 cents from this year, City Controller Maria Brown said.

However, commercial property owners will see a 3.3 percent increase in the tax rate, an increase of $1.08, to $33.41 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

"I'm glad at what we accomplished," said Councilman Lewis Rotella. "We had a goal, and we didn't meet it. But this is my third budget, and every year we cut more."

Rotella was referring to the goal of some Council members to have no increase next year for any taxpayers.

Councilman Sam Fruscione said the tax break for homeowners is a "historic moment." He said he has owned a home in the Falls for 17 years and does not remember the last time the city gave residential taxpayers a decrease.

Last week, the Council voted not to enact a slight equalization to the homestead and nonhomestead rates for 2007, which would have meant a small tax break for both residential and commercial properties.

City Council Chairman Charles Walker cast the only dissenting vote Monday. He agreed with several of the mayor's vetoes on cuts to personnel.

The 2007 budget cuts the jobs of several city employees, including the youth associate director, greenskeeper at the city's golf course, the city's forester, a parking office attendant, an operating engineer, an operations foreman who was paid under a temporary line all year, and a crew chief position under Community Beautification that was budgeted at $1.

An additional secretary for the mayor, which Anello proposed paying for with some of the city's share of local hotel occupancy tax, also was left out of the 2007 budget. Also, the city corporation counsel's salary was decreased by $20,000 because the Council believes that acting Corporation Counsel Damon DeCastro is filling the job at part-time hours. DeCastro has disputed that.

The budget creates a new position of golf course services specialist, which Councilman Chris A. Robins said would fulfill duties of both the youth associate director and greenskeeper.

Another large cut that was made Monday was a $125,000 reduction to the Fire Department overtime line, which Fire Chief William D. MacKay said during the meeting that he would "work within."

The Council has never met with the Anello administration on its changes to the budget -- with the mayor and Council members each saying the other side could initiate a conversation -- and Walker criticized his colleagues Monday for cutting some positions without having a plan.

During the meeting, Council Secretary Geri Mondi passed out a memorandum that Council members wrote to explain why they made the cuts. She said she would deliver it to Anello after the meeting.

In the memo, the Council sharply disputes the mayor's recent statements that the city will have to reduce services in streets, and at the golf course and parks, because of some of the Council's $800,000 in cuts to his proposed budget.

The Council wrote in the memo that Anello's vetoes "negatively impact a number of efforts taken by the City Council to improve the future financial health of the city."

e-mail: gfranklin@buffnews.com

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