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Tonawanda Council adopts budget for city with 2.49% tax increase

The Tonawanda Common Council on Tuesday night adopted a 2010 budget that maintains Mayor Ronald J. Pilozzi's original spending plan calling for a 2.49 percent tax increase.

The budget attempted to lower costs by renegotiating health benefits for retirees, but the Wall Street economic crisis forced the city's payments for the state employee pension fund to increase by about 50 percent, or more than $400,000. Health insurance also increased by $300,000.

"Had we not done things to control costs, I don't know where we'd be," Pilozzi said.

However, several residents who attended the Council meeting, which included a public hearing on the budget, were upset by the tax increase, particularly those who live in the River's Edge district of the city. The city recently reassessed all properties, and many River's Edge residents saw their taxes almost double.

"When we had bad times, I cut my budget," said resident Wayne Coleman. "But this city is out of control. We're paying the bulk of the taxes. [Tonawanda is] a small community, [and] we could be part of the Town of Tonawanda."

A common complaint among residents was that the city's work force has not been cut enough. While sympathizing with residents, several Tonawanda officials argued that cutting jobs would be detrimental to city services.

"We haven't laid anyone off, but we have reduced the work force overtime," Councilman James P. Kossow said. "Can we do more? We're at the point where we have to merge with other municipalities or cut services."

Councilman Gary C. Waterhouse said it was difficult for him to accept a budget with a tax increase, but he vowed to never cut police or fire services.

"I know it's hard," Waterhouse said. "We tried to be creative, but we're also handcuffed by the state."

Resident Mark Saltarelli told city officials that they should reconsider implementing a parking fee near Niawanda Park for nonresidents as a new revenue source for the city. Councilman Rick Davis and Pilozzi, who are poised to square off for the mayoral's post in the November election, agreed that the idea of "user fees" should be reconsidered.

"Anytime we can go back to the public for the use of our city is always a plus," Pilozzi said.

Pilozzi said that his intent was to offer residents a tax decrease after the city's health insurance savings but that it did not work out that way. He sympathized with River's Edge residents, but an outside firm did the recent round of reassessments so city officials could remain impartial.

"It was a big impact there," he said. "Obviously, you're not happy with it, and I can't say I blame you."

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