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Hearing on budget ignored

It may have been the timing -- 10 a.m. on a weekday -- that kept Lackawanna residents away, or already knowing that property tax rates would be decreasing.

Either way, Wednesday's hearing on the City Council's budget for 2007-08 was "public" in name only. Council President Ronald R. Spadone leafed through the 44-page document for an audience consisting of the city clerk, Council secretary and a reporter.

To be fair, previous budget hearings attracted few people beyond City Hall employees.

The difference between the Council's budget and the one presented last month by Mayor Norman L. Polanski Jr. is negligible. The Council's total and tax levy are $28,820 less than the mayor's; the difference in tax rates can be counted in pennies.

Bottom line: The Council's $20.98 million budget carries a homestead tax rate of $11.58 per $1,000 of assessed valuation -- down 66 cents from the current rate, and a nonhomestead rate of $33.48, down $1.35.

A special meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday for the Council to vote on the budget, after which the mayor has 10 days to veto any changes. The Council then has 30 days to override the vetoes; a budget must be in place by July 31.

Both budgets reflect the savings in employee benefit expenses from going to a single health care insurer.

"We are down appreciably in this category," Spadone said of the $775,000 difference.

Among the changes made by the Council:

* Increased daily rate for school crossing guards to $32; the mayor proposed $30 and the current rate is $28.

* Deleted the purchase of a new sport utility vehicle for the Fire Department, budgeted at $35,000.

* Increased funding for the purchase of riot and narcotics-related equipment for the Police Department by $500 and $1,000, respectively.

Both budgets include hiring an additional firefighter to relieve shortages.

And both budgets introduced $10,000 stipends to buy playground equipment for each of the four Council wards.

e-mail: jhabuda@buffnews.com

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