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County budget of $316 million approved 60 jobs eliminated, most wages frozen in package that features small tax hike

The Niagara County Legislature on Tuesday passed a $316 million budget for 2012 that eliminates more than 60 positions, most of them vacant, and freezes wages for most other employees.

The budget includes a small tax increase of less than 2 percent as measured by the average full-value tax rate and about 3 percent in the total amount to be collected in taxes.

The latter figure, called the levy, is the number that is subject to the state's new 2 percent property tax cap.

However, there are exceptions to the cap, and as a result, Budget Director Daniel R. Huntington calculated that Niagara County's "real" tax cap is 3.69 percent.

The Legislature rejected an amendment proposed by Niagara Falls Democrats Dennis F. Virtuoso and Renae Kimble that would have restored "step increases" on union pay scales at a cost of $650,000.

Also turned down by the Republican-controlled Legislature were Democratic proposals to eliminate some patronage jobs.

Unsuccessfully targeted by Virtuoso were Public Information Officer Christian W. Peck, at a salary of $54,479; Legislature Clerk Mary Jo Tamburlin at $55,400; and County Auditor James B. Sobczyk at $57,847. Counting benefits, those jobs cost a total of $252,556.

The Legislature did away with its $50,000-a-year membership in Buffalo Niagara Enterprise, redirecting the money to homeland security and grant writing contracts.

The county Industrial Development Agency now has a marketing director in former Legislator Andrea L. McNulty.

"I think having a person dedicated to marketing may provide us with more flexibility," said Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport. "I haven't heard that anybody was dissatisfied with the relationship we had with the BNE."

In other matters Tuesday, the Legislature approved a salary package for County Clerk Wayne F. Jagow's fifth four-year term, which starts Jan. 1. Virtuoso, Kimble and John Syracuse, R-Newfane, voted no.

"Now is not the time to start raising salaries," Virtuoso said. "Nothing personal, I think Wayne's doing a great job, but we can't afford it."

Actually, Jagow will not receive a raise on his $84,149 salary in 2012. He will receive a 4 percent increase in 2013 and 3 percent raises in 2014 and 2015, bringing his pay to $92,844 by the end of his term.

The Legislature also approved a measure taking 1 megawatt of Niagara Power Project electricity from the county water and sewer districts and redirecting it to the Empower Niagara program that helps small businesses.

The industrial development agencies in the towns of Lockport and Niagara each will have control over applications for one-quarter of the power.

Also, legislators dropped plans they passed in 2009 to sue the state over a law cutting off the county's share of Seneca Niagara Casino revenue.

They approved a final payment to the Philips Lytle law firm of $11,934 in fees for the abortive suit.