City Clerk and Budget Director Richard P. Mullaney calculated Monday that the proposed 2010 city budget carries a property tax increase of nearly 12 percent, even after the cuts the Common Council made in work sessions last week.
Even if the controversial curbside recycling program is dropped from the budget, the increase would be 8.6 percent, Mullaney said.
"I would encourage all of you to do some homework," Mayor Michael W. Tucker told the Council on Monday.
The figures were calculated ahead of the annual budget public hearing, set for 6 p.m. Wednesday in City Hall, to let the public know what the impact on taxpayers would be.
The city charter requires the Council to pass the budget at its first meeting in October, which is set for Oct. 7.
Tucker said that although the Council must decide soon on whether to start recycling in 2010, there was no need to decide before the public hearing.
"I think it's important to hear what the public has to say about recycling. We'll leave it in there [for now]. We can take it out later," Tucker said.
The Council will meet at 3 p.m. Wednesday, before the public hearing, to try to make some cuts to bring down the tax increase.
At the request of reporters, Mullaney figured out that the city could avoid any tax increase, even with recycling in the budget, if it spent $2,042,000 of its $3.1 million surplus in 2010 without making any more cuts.
"But you can only do that once," Mullaney warned.
The main driver of the tax increase is pay raises for city employees. Their salaries and benefits constitute 82 percent of the budget, and all five unions have been negotiating with the city for new contracts to replace ones that expired at the end of 2007.
The city anticipates 3 percent employee raises for 2010, as well as 3 percent retroactive raises for 2009, although no settlements have yet been reached. The retroactive raises, which totaled $384,000, were placed in the 2010 budget, but the Council voted to cut all but $110,000 of that out.
That meant the Council was hoping for settlements in 2009 with every union except the Lockport Firefighters Association, which has declared an impasse and is expected to get its raise from an arbitrator's decision, probably next year. That's why the $110,000 was left in. Other retroactive pay would presumably be drawn from the surplus.
Spending stands at $23.9 million, which is almost 6 percent above this year's budget.
The recycling cost is $335,000, although its primary advocate, Alderwoman Richelle J. Pasceri, R-1st Ward, argues that it will cost less than that because of savings in other areas, such as disposing of less garbage in a landfill.
Mullaney said he was able to reduce the estimated increase in health insurance costs by $400,000, thanks mostly to changes in coverage for retirees that he anticipates will be part of the new union contracts.
Mullaney said the city financial staff sees no grounds for estimating increases in most revenues, such as sales tax, which elected officials have been known to do to avoid increases in taxes they control. Sales tax revenue is running below 2008 levels so far this year.
Ambulance charges, interest income and fines also are trailing last year's pace, Mullaney said.