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Brown's budget plan cuts property tax levy

The total amount of money property owners shell out in taxes to the City of Buffalo will decrease under a budget proposal unveiled Tuesday by Mayor Byron W. Brown.

The $482.6 million spending plan, which holds the line on the residential property tax rate and trims the commercial rate by 8.5 percent, also includes no increases in the garbage user fee.

However, residents will see water rates rise by 6 percent starting July 1.

The higher rates, set by the Buffalo Water Board, will arrive as the third year of planned increases approved in 2010. In total, rates will have gone up about 21 percent over the three years.

The total property tax levy in Brown's proposed 2012-13 spending plan, for both the city and schools, is $138.6 million, down from $143.2 million in the current budget.

There will be no increase in the amount of funding provided to city schools, but for the first time in the city's history, more than half of the amount of taxes collected will go to aid the school district, according to the mayor.

Overall spending would increase about 4.4 percent under the mayor's proposal, which also taps the city's fund balance for about $11.3 million, down from about $12 million in the current budget.

"As in each and every year of my term, this budget reflects my commitment to sound fiscal management and conservative budgeting," Brown said during an afternoon news conference in City Hall.

The areas where costs are increasing the most are pensions, gasoline and fringe benefits, officials said.

New York State also will give Buffalo a little help with its budget.

The state will move up an aid payment of about $18 million from December of next year to June of next year, an advance that will also recur in subsequent years, Finance Commissioner Janet Penksa said.

Brown's proposed spending plan, which must be approved by the Common Council, also includes the creation of an energy plan for the city. Under the proposal, the city would hire a consultant to devise a plan that would look at overall energy use and the possible retrofitting of city buildings.

The proposed budget also allocates $250,000 for a new grant program aimed at beautifying and reducing crime in neighborhoods and business districts.

It also calls for the purchase of two new sidewalk sweeping vehicles at a cost of $75,000.

Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera, who is a part of the Council faction seen as less friendly to the mayor, attended the mayor's presentation and said it was good to see that the line on taxes is being held.

Lawmakers still have to dig into the numbers in the spending plan to find out where the cuts are, said Rivera, who called Brown's proposed budget "very conservative."

Total taxes are determined by the tax rate and property values. The city's next property reassessment is scheduled to take effect July 1, 2015.

The Council will hold budget hearings this week, beginning at 10 a.m. today in Council Chambers. Workshops, with more of a line-by-line review by lawmakers, will begin next week. All sessions are open to the public.

A public hearing on the budget will be held at 5 p.m. Monday in Council Chambers.