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Budget draft raises tax rate 5.9%

East Aurora village taxpayers face a 5.9 percent tax rate increase under the village's 2007-08 budget -- whittled from the 7.2 percent increase projected last week.

The village's new $6.49 million general fund budget, which was adopted Monday by a 5-2 vote of the Village Board, lowered the amount of the tax increase but did so, in part, by further cutting money budgeted for police overtime expenses.

In all, the board slashed a combined $15,000 in police and police dispatch overtime funds and another $38,000 targeted for a village retirement reserve account.

The $53,000 in total cuts was partly offset by $13,000 added for fire service awards tied to a retirement plan for volunteer firefighters.

The $40,000 in net cuts puts the tax rate at $16.48 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, reflecting a 5.9 percent jump in the tax rate over the current rate of $15.56. The village plans to raise $3.3 million in taxes to help support its general fund budget, with another $2.72 million expected in nontax revenues and $476,000 in appropriated fund balance.

Spending is down slightly over this year's budget, but taxes are up mainly because the village has been using surplus funds for each of the last several years to keep taxes stable. Plus, retroactive payments tied to the police contract negotiations this year, coupled with retirement pay-outs, have impacted village coffers.

The board's approval of the budget had a unique twist. Some trustees said they were upset with the police overtime cuts and felt the $110,000 total budgeted for police overtime is not enough. But in the end, those trustees supported the amended budget proposal because the tax hit wouldn't be as great for taxpayers.

Mayor David DiPietro and newly elected Trustee Kevin Biggs, a Buffalo police officer, voted against the budget and new cuts.

Trustee Keith Bender, who disagreed with the police overtime cuts, said that a 5.9 percent tax rate increase was more prudent than a 7.2 percent increase.

"I think to taxpayers, the 5.9 percent increase is a bit more palatable than a 7.2 percent increase," Trustee Ernest Scheer said. "There's a feeling that too much overtime is doled out."

"As long as public safety is not at stake, we might have to schedule [police staff] differently to better manage the money," Scheer said. "If we give it to them, they'll spend it."

DiPietro backed the $15,000 in police overtime cuts, as did Trustee Patrick McDonnell.

Biggs opposed the new cuts. "Cutting the police budget overtime this much may not be the right thing to do," he said, suggesting small cuts be made in other departments instead of just police.

In the end, DiPietro joined Biggs in voting against the budget.

Questioned afterward about his "no" vote on the budget, which included cuts that he supported, DiPietro said the cuts were just "compromise cuts."

"I don't believe in big government," he said. "The cuts didn't go deep enough."

Newly appointed Police Chief Ronald Krowka was out of town on vacation and didn't yet know about the latest cuts in his department's overtime. In earlier budget sessions, he agreed to whittling the overtime account to $120,000 from the $175,000 requested by his predecessor, Chief William Nye.

"We have a new police chief, and we're really putting him under the gun the first year," Bender said of the overtime cuts, noting that Krowka had already offered budget concessions.

e-mail: krobinson@buffnews.com

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