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Town of Niagara’s tentative budget for 2014 is tabled in 3-2 vote by board

TOWN OF NIAGARA – The preliminary budget for 2014 was tabled Tuesday by the Town Board for more discussion.

Following a public hearing during which more questions were asked by the councilmen than by the public, the board voted, 3-2, to put off passage until questions regarding funds to help alleviate flooding and to repair roads in the Belden Center area could be addressed.

Councilman Marc M. Carpenter was joined by Councilmen Robert A. Clark and Charles F. Teixeira in his motion to table the $7,730,597 tentative budget so the board could discuss the sewer and water lines in Belden Center, along with the roads, many of which are in bad shape, it was noted.

The councilmen plan to meet with those department heads to come up with answers.

Several questions regarding Belden Center had been raised during the hearing and the councilmen could offer no firm answers. “I’m not ready to vote on the budget,” Carpenter said.

The tentative budget for 2014 submitted early this month by Supervisor Steven C. Richards would carry a tax-rate decrease of 3.5 percent for business owners and 5.6 percent for homeowners while maintaining funding for various town projects and purchases, according to the supervisor.

About $1,853,184 of the budget needs to be raised by taxes, which is $78,808 less than had to be collected this year. The new tax rates would be $4.45 per $1,000 of assessed valuation for homestead properties and $8.40 for non-homestead in 2014. The rates are $4.71 and $8.71, respectively, in 2013, Richards said in a news release.

The hearing took on a formal structure almost immediately when Deputy Supervisor Danny W. Sklarski read a list of budget questions for Richards from the other board members.

The questions from the board included items such as $50,000 being put away to save for a new town garage roof and $3,675 for baseball uniforms.

In past years, the supervisor met with the rest of the board at budget work sessions to discuss items in the general fund in the same manner as department heads presented their spending packages to the councilmen. At the Monday night session, the councilmen told Sklarski they wanted to meet with Richards at a work session instead of during the public hearing.

“What night can we meet?, Clark asked Richards on Tuesday.

“I’m here right now,” Richards responded.

Sklarski, who voted with Richards not to table the budget, recommended its approval because of the tax rate decreases and the fact that the board did not have to make any significant changes as a result of its meetings with department heads.

The only member of the public to address the board, Tom Tierney of Rhode Island Avenue in Belden Center, wanted to know what was being done to prevent the flooding that hit the area last July when sewer lines backed up into homes and intersections were impassable. He was one of about seven people, including three town employees, who attended the hearing.

Clark said the board is looking at modernizing the Belden pump house rather than replacing just the pump, which would run about $100,000.

Tierney questioned why other roads in the town have been repaired while the ones in Belden Center are never touched. Highway Superintendent Robert Herman told him that the town has applied for a grant to fix more roads including Rhode Island Street. If the grant is turned down, Herman said, the board could borrow money for the project. Teixeira said no final numbers were available yet for the work.

Carpenter said Richards has a five-year plan for road replacement and repair but has not shared the details with the board. Because the sewer lines would need to be repaired first, the roads might not be touched for another three years, it was noted.

No future meeting dates have been set, and Sklarski said there would be no further public forums. Town Clerk Sylvia Virtuoso said that the budget needs to be passed by Nov. 20 and that the board has scheduled its monthly meeting for Nov. 19.