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Revised budget reduces tax hike, restores key services

NIAGARA FALLS – The public will get its first peek Wednesday at the city's revised 2013 budget.

City lawmakers said Monday they are ready to unveil substantial cuts to Mayor Paul A. Dyster's original plan, which included 27 layoffs and an 8 percent tax hike.

This time, the lawmakers say the budget will include a lot less "disaster," as the mayor originally termed the document.

"You're going to see us balance the budget, reduce the tax [rate increase] down to zero, and restore critical services," said City Council Chairman Sam F. Fruscione. "Not restoring everybody, just critical services."

Specifics on the plan have been scarce, and the council has not informed the public to this point exactly which departments will see the cuts.

But Fruscione said he and fellow Councilman Glenn A. Choolokian have proposed cuts that they said come not from large items but from roughly 140 smaller budget lines spread across the budget.

The only hint Fruscione has given about the plan is his recent frustration with the number of consultants budgeted by Dyster on some of his signature development projects.

Councilwoman Kristen M. Grandinetti said she fears more than $3 million in annual funds to USA Niagara Development Corp. also are set to be cut by the Council.

Angry residents also admonished city leaders earlier this month for proposing such a large tax hike, telling lawmakers that excessive spending and poor budgeting were more to blame for the city's fiscal crisis than a state dispute with the Seneca Nation of Indians.

That dispute has led the Indian nation to withhold more than $58 million in slot machine revenues from the city, money the city budgeted for road paving and development but also for debt payments on its police station and employee salaries.

Council leaders said their revised budget will bridge a $5 million budget gap and restore jobs to some, but not all, city employees who were set to be laid off.

All union jobs will be restored, Choolokian said, because union contracts state the city cannot legally employ temporary workers when it lays off union employees in the same budget year. The more than 80 seasonal jobs also would be restored, Fruscione said.

"It's impossible to restore all the jobs," Fruscione said. "Some are not lined [up] to the services residents expect like forestry and street paving, so those have to go first."

Dyster originally anticipated the council would approve a $13 million "spin-up" of state funds by the New York Power Authority that would help balance the budget, but leaders rejected the plan because they said the city would get less money in a lump-sum payment now than if it received the funds over 44 years.

The mayor said the city has asked the Power Authority if it would "sweeten the deal" by either providing a partial spin-up of state funds or allowing the city to approve the plan but not dip into the funds until a later date.

Dyster has budgeted $7 million in casino revenue for next year – funds that are not necessarily guaranteed but that the city believes it is legally entitled to.

"We are assuming some receipt of casino revenues next year, but would like to have some backup behind that," Dyster said.

The council will present its revised budget at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Council Chambers, City Hall, 745 Main St.