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Past midnight, reduced budget OK'd

The Common Council, weary from weeks of budget wrangling, adopted a 2007-08 budget of $13.9 million early Thursday, just after midnight.

The plan, adopted after the April 15 deadline, is about $800,000 smaller than the $14.7 million plan that included a 39.9 percent tax increase when proposed in February by Mayor David J. Carucci. City property owners will be taxed almost 19 percent more than in the current year, at $146.34 per $1,000 assessed value, or an increase of $23.23 per $1,000.

For the average home assessed at $5,500 -- at the equalization rate of about 8 percent of current market value -- the tax bills will cost an estimated $805.

Incorporating all funds -- including next year's $1,686,655 in debt service -- the city has budgeted for $21,113,920 in expenses.

The Council and the Carucci administration increased the water and sewer fund in an effort to pay back the general fund for years of the borrowing done by previous administrations as part of an effort to keep rates low for residents. The added revenue, a planned $105,332 surplus in the sewer fund and $67,166 in the water fund, will be used for badly needed infrastructure improvements.

Quarterly water rates will increase by $4.50 per 1,000 gallons, to $55.99 per household, while quarterly sewer rates will see a $3.50 increase, to $37.80.

The final agreement withholds funding from six full-time jobs and seven part-time jobs, laying off a full-time firefighter, a full-time emergency dispatcher, two parks maintenance workers, a mechanic, the Parks and Recreation Department office manager, a part-time Fire Department clerk and six part-time dispatchers.

In addition, the Police Department budget was trimmed by almost $200,000, and the police union sealed a two-year contract early, voluntarily giving up raises and agreeing to pay some health insurance costs. Other large cuts were seen in the Buildings Department, the ice rink and pool complex, and John Ash Community Center, as well as youth and senior citizen programs.

After the vote, Alderwoman Linda Edstrom of Ward 4, chairwoman of the new Finance Committee, said that it will be impossible to tax the city into prosperity and called on other Council members to begin 2008-09 budget preparations next week.

Edstrom, who with Ward 5 Alderman Jefrey Steiner, hoped to see deep cuts in services and spending in the immediate future, along with the lower taxes desired by the other aldermen, voted yes on the final version of the budget while expressing regrets for cuts to jobs and programs.

She criticized Council President Raymond L. Wangelin, Ward 3, Rick Smith, Ward 6, and John Padlo, Ward 7, for not voting along with the other Council members. The final vote was 4-3.

"Those three should not have voted against it. They are the old-timers," Edstrom said. "Do any of us want to do this? We should sink or swim together, but it wasn't going to happen [for them]."

As soon as the meeting was over, Ward 2 Alderman Michael Kayes began organizing a cleanup of Forness Park for this weekend. His crew, the Boy Scouts and a group called Bona Responds, which is planning to clean up Gargoyle Park, will do some of the work that the Parks Department cannot accomplish.

Public Works Director Thomas H. Windus said the problem is compounded because the layoffs have prompted the county and other municipal workers involved in the city's shared-services agreement to refuse working on such projects. "It will take a community effort to maintain the facilities now," Windus said.

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