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Hearing set on budget in North Tonawanda As elections approach, tax decrease proposed

A proposed budget carrying a slight decrease in the tax rate and projecting a record amount of sales tax revenue will come before taxpayers during a public hearing Tuesday night in City Hall.

With the mayor's office and four Common Council seats up for grabs in November's general election, city officials are proposing a property tax rate decrease of 5 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

The proposed $43.9 million budget anticipates $7.5 million in sales tax revenue in 2010, a figure larger than the city has ever taken in and about $540,000 greater than what the city received in 2008.

Through August, the city has received about $59,000 more in sales tax revenue than at the same point in 2008, City Clerk-Treasurer Robert G. Ortt told city officials during a budget workshop last week.

Mayor Lawrence V. Soos delivered his proposed budget to the Council on Aug. 1, and since then, the city's lawmaking body has reviewed the spending plan, making only tweaks thus far.

With regard to the $7.5 million sales tax revenue figure, Soos "still feels that's attainable," Jeffrey N. Mis, Soos' administrative assistant, said last week.

The total property tax levy in the proposed budget is about $15 million, which is about $1.6 million more than the 2009 levy.

Among the most visible budgetary changes proposed for 2010 are:

The city would offer a $15,000 retirement incentive to employees in two of its unions. About 13 employees have expressed interest in taking such a buyout, though employees would have until Nov. 20 to make a final decision.

The city is currently planning not to fill five of those positions in 2010. Should the number of employees taking the buyout turn out to be less than what the city planned, officials have said they may consider layoffs.

Retirement incentives were not offered to employees of the Police and Fire departments.

Golfers at the city's Deerwood course would see their fees rise next year. The biggest hike would be for nonresidents who play 18 holes; they would pay $26 per round, up from $24. Nine-hole rounds for residents and nonresidents, as well as 18-hole rounds for residents, would rise by $1 above this year's rates.

The quarterly base charge for water service would rise to $12, from $6, for individual apartment units, equaling the base cost paid by homeowners.

Water and sewer rates would remain at $2.70 and $4.50 per 1,000 gallons, respectively.

Soos had proposed trimming overtime in all city departments by 15 percent, as well as cutting 10 percent from each department's contractual and equipment spending.

The Council has made little to no change in those areas so far in its review.

Restoring any funding without cutting elsewhere or without finding new revenue would lead to an increase in the tax rate, city officials have said.

"We can't afford to continue to raise the taxes," Council President Catherine G. Schwandt said during the budget workshop.

The proposed budget calls for the tax rate to be lowered to $12.57, from $12.62, per $1,000 in assessed value.

First Ward Alderman Dennis M. Pasiak, who has expressed concern about the sales tax projection, left open the possibility that the Council may look to alter that figure before it finalizes a budget.

On top of the general budget, the city is looking to borrow $2.29 million for capital projects next year, down from $3.2 million this year.

In its review, the Council pulled $50,000 in funding from a project to improve the former Niagara River Yacht Club marina, leaving $50,000 left for planned work.

The Council has until Sept. 15 to adopt a budget. After adoption, the mayor has 10 days to issue any vetoes. The Council has until Oct. 31 to override any vetoes.

Tuesday's public hearing will be held at 6 p.m. in Council Chambers at City Hall, 216 Payne Ave. A copy of the proposed budget will be available in the city clerk-treasurer's office Tuesday.

e-mail: abesecker@buffnews.com

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