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No change to homeowner tax rate in proposed budget

Mayor Byron W. Brown will unveil a budget today that cuts the tax rate for commercial properties in Buffalo by 8 1/2 percent while keeping the tax rate for homeowners unchanged.

The proposed spending plan, which must be approved by the Common Council, includes a new class of at least 34 police officers and no layoffs to the city workforce.

Overall, the $482.6 million budget increases spending by $20.3 million, or about 4.4 percent, over the current fiscal year.

During the formal budget announcement planned for today, a number of "new quality-of-life initiatives" also will be unveiled, Brown said.

As part of the spending plan that goes into effect when the new fiscal year starts July 1, Brown is making good on his February 2011 promise to hold the line on taxes for three years.

"One of the reasons that we've proposed this commercial tax rate reduction is because there's been a lot of focus on investment in the City of Buffalo," Brown told The Buffalo News. "We want to capitalize on this unique opportunity. We want to build on the opportunity and the interest that we have [of] people investing in the city."

This is the second straight year Brown has proposed no increase to residential tax rates. Overall, homeowners' tax rates have gone down by about 15 percent since he took office, Brown said.

Commercial property taxes have decreased by more than 24 percent over the same period, the mayor said.

When compared with other major upstate cities, Buffalo will have the lowest average tax rate, at $23.46 per $1,000 in assessed valuation, said Deputy Mayor Steven M. Casey.

Information on the tax levy was not made available Monday.

One of the new positions in the budget will be a city forester, a position that existed at least as recently as 2009 but had been eliminated. The total number of city jobs will not increase, Casey said.

The biggest cost increases for the city will be pension expenses, which are going up 21 percent, and gasoline costs, which are going up 15 percent, Finance Commissioner Janet Penksa said.

Since he became mayor in 2006, pension costs have risen 105 percent, Brown said.

The city has been able to save money in health care costs, Penksa said, by renegotiating rates and becoming self-insured for pharmacy services for employees. Health care costs are decreasing by about 1 1/2 percent in the proposed budget, she said.

The Council will begin budget hearings Wednesday morning.