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Lockport budget cuts tax rate but raises taxes to be collected

By using one-time-only fund transfers, city officials presented the Common Council with a 2012 budget Wednesday that reduces the property tax rate, but substantially raises the amount to be collected in taxes.

Moves that included reductions in health insurance and workers' compensation costs and the spending of some money that had been stashed in reserve funds produced a tax rate of $15.02 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. That's down from last year's $15.25.

"Compared to what we were facing, that's a pretty impressive number," Mayor Michael W. Tucker said, referring to the 18 percent tax rate increase on the table a month ago.

However, the amount to be collected in taxes stands at $10.78 million, up 11.2 percent from this year.

"Other than sending people home [by layoffs], there's no solution," City Clerk and Budget Director Richard P. Mullaney said. "This is a one-shot deal."

The lower rate means taxpayers will see lower bills only if their assessments went down or stayed the same in this year's citywide revaluation.

Homeowners whose assessments went up will probably pay more in taxes despite the lower rate.

"They've already taken [the tax rate] down for us to where we wanted it to be. I'd hate to squeeze," Council President Richelle J. Pasceri said.

However, Pasceri called a budget work session for 4:30 p.m. Monday. The Council voted to hold a second public hearing on the budget at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

The budget vote is expected Nov. 2, the final Council meeting before the Nov. 8 election.

That's a month after the City Charter says the budget is supposed to be adopted. This is the second year in a row city leaders have ignored that deadline.

Mullaney recommended that the Charter be changed to require budget adoption the week before the election.

Tucker said four of the five city unions agreed to his request for a change in their members' annual health reimbursement account payments, pushing the expense into 2013.

Mullaney said 2012 expenses can be reduced by about $400,000 by moving the health reimbursement payments from November 2012 to early 2013.

The only union that voted down the request was the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, but that blue-collar union cut the city a break by allowing privatization of garbage collection, which started last week.

"I can't get upset with AFSCME. They've given us more than anyone," Tucker said.

The budget presented Wednesday reduced the city's anticipated workers' comp expense by $150,000, even though its insurance consultant last week urged the Council not to do that.

The budget also vacuums up about $418,000 from reserve funds that had been set aside for police cars, debt service and prescription drug subsidies for retired city employees.