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Niagara Falls budget proposal likely to include tax increase

NIAGARA FALLS – The city’s proposed budget for next year is 27 days late.

And what’s coming from Mayor Paul A. Dyster is likely to include a proposal to raise taxes on residents and businesses to cover a multimillion-dollar budget gap.

Dyster on Monday also left open the option of trying to exceed the state’s tax cap as part of a proposed spending plan for 2015.

The mayor, whose proposed budget is late for the second time in three years, is facing pressure from the City Council, which was supposed to receive the budget plan on Oct. 1, under the City Charter.

While lawmakers have had some conversations about the city’s fiscal situation, they haven’t received any official documentation from the administration.

When asked for his position on a potential tax increase, Councilman Andrew P. Touma said he would find it difficult to ask taxpayers to pay more “when I think the administration could have done a better job managing the day-to-day operations of the city to make sure we’re not at this point.”

Early on in the budget process, when department heads had put in requests for everything they said they would need, the preliminary projected budget gap reached $9 million. Last week, the gap was down to about $4.4 million, and, though the mayor noted that it is a fluid situation, the gap has shrunk slightly since then, Dyster said Monday.

Dyster said two weeks ago this budget gap came in larger than what his administration was “expecting and prepared to address.”

The mayor said it was possible he could make an announcement as soon as today about when he would release his proposed budget. Though he resisted when pressed for a specific date, he hinted the release would be soon. “I think that we’re reaching a point where if we were unable to get this done by the end of the week, I would be very concerned,” he said.

Dyster also lamented previous years’ budgets when the city did not “take advantage of new revenues” within the confines of the state’s tax cap – in other words, those times in recent years when the city had chances to increase taxes, but chose not to.

“Not having addressed that in past years, we’re not going to be able to close the gap simply by taking what we can get under the tax cap,” Dyster said.

Council Chairman Charles A. Walker, who said he’s “not looking for a tax increase,” said he wants to see what’s in the budget, how much is cut and what possible changes can be made before taking a position about a possible tax increase.

“Six months ago we should have known that we were kind of headed this way and some cuts or something perhaps should have taken place,” Walker said. “It concerns me that we’re still talking about not having a budget.”