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N. Tonawanda Council rejects budget Mayor's proposal automatically adopted after lawmakers fail to approve own plan

A majority of city lawmakers voted Tuesday against a budget that they had altered only slightly since Aug. 1 when Mayor Lawrence V. Soos presented it.

The amended budget -- which, like Soos' proposal, called for lowering the property tax rate by 5 cents per $1,000 of assessed value -- was rejected in a series of 3-2 votes.

Third Ward Alderwoman Nancy A. Donovan and 1st Ward Alderman Dennis M. Pasiak joined Council President Catherine G. Schwandt, alderwoman-at-large, in voting "no."

Second Ward Alderman Kevin J. Brick Jr. and Alderman-at-large Brett M. Sommer voted for the spending plan.

Opponents of Soos' plan argued that although the tax rate was lower, the overall tax levy, or the amount to be raised through taxes, would increase by $1.6 million, or about 12.1 percent. The total tax levy would be about $14.97 million.

Under the City Charter, the mayor's proposed budget is automatically adopted when the Common Council fails to approve a spending plan by its deadline, which was Tuesday.

In the end, what Soos proposed at the start of the budget process has become the city's budget for next year.

"I guess I should thank you for adopting my budget," Soos said after the votes.
"No problem," Schwandt responded quietly. "You can take full responsibility."

The spending plan consists of general fund, sewer fund and water fund appropriations of $41.4 million, an increase of about 1.8 percent.

Next year's capital budget, which is financed through bonds, is $2.46 million, down about 23 percent from this year's capital spending plan.

The water rate will remain $2.70 per 1,000 gallons, while the sewer rate will stay at $4.50 per 1,000 gallons.

The spending plan anticipates $7.5 million in sales tax revenue, more than the city has ever collected in one year.

Lawmakers critical of the budget frequently criticized that figure, which is $540,000 greater than what the city collected last year.

The budget includes a $15,000 retirement incentive for employees in two city unions.

Soos' office has said about 13 employees already have expressed interest in taking the buyout.

They have until Nov. 20 to make a final decision.

The spending plan calls for keeping five of the vacated positions empty.

Also under the budget, fees at the city's Deerwood Golf Course will rise next year.

Nine-hole rounds for residents and nonresidents, along with 18-hole rounds for residents, will rise by $1.

Fees for nonresidents who play 18 holes will rise $2.

The spending plan relies on income from a proposed lease of some space in the city's wastewater plant, as well as benefits of low-cost electricity Soos said he expects from the State Power Authority.

By voting down the budget, the Council restored $50,000 in capital funding for improvements at the former Niagara River Yacht Club marina on River Road it had cut during budget deliberations.

Brick, the Council's lone Democrat, said other lawmakers had given no indication they would vote against the spending plan. Soos, also a Democrat, is running for re-election this fall.

In terms of the budget figures, Brick said he was a little wary of the revenue projections, but overall thought it was based on the careful work of the city's department heads.

Donovan said that while she hopes the revenue projections prove accurate, she couldn't support the spending plan.

"I just found it hard to work with the numbers that were in there," she said.

Both Brick and Donovan said they would like the budget process revamped, including moving it to later in the year.

Jeffrey N. Mis, Soos' administrative assistant, said lawmakers claimed to have issues with the proposed budget, but "didn't roll up their sleeves and look at the numbers."

"They said nay to a budget," Mis said, "but did nothing to try to address any of the concerns they had."

e-mail: abesecker@buffnews.com

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