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Lockport budget draft shows 12.6 percent tax increase

LOCKPORT – The Common Council heard Wednesday that the current version of a 2015 city budget shows a 12.6 percent property tax increase.

And accountant John Schiavone said taxpayers need to get ready for taxes to keep going up until the city can rebuild a financial cushion to prevent disasters such as the one that forced 14 layoffs this month.

“You are not going to be able to keep cutting and provide the minimum services you’re required to (provide) by law,” Schiavone told the aldermen. “You are going to have to maintain that tax increase for a number of years, five or six years. You have to build up a fund balance.”

Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said, “Right now, I don’t see any more services we can get out of providing.”

The city did away with the fire department’s ambulance service last month, and basically abolished its youth and recreation programs except for some summer offerings, largely from outside entities.

Alderman John Lombardi III, R-1st Ward, suggested selling land in some of the 27 city parks for home lots – he targeted Dolan, Grossi and Dudley Square parks, specifically – but Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano said it can’t happen.

“We cannot sell park property without the permission of the State Legislature, and then only if you find replacement park land,” Ottaviano said.

“So we’re stuck having the expense of mowing this grass and we can’t make any money off it?” Lombardi replied. “There’s got to be a way.”

Ottaviano said there isn’t.

Lombardi suggested offering early-retirement incentives to senior members of the city’s white-collar and blue-collar unions, since the fire department’s members rejected such an offer, triggering five layoffs there this month. McCaffrey expressed interest, and the Council decided to talk about it behind closed doors.

Schiavone and Sara Dayton of the Lumsden & McCormick accounting firm, who are preparing the budget, said the 12.6 percent tax levy increase figure is down from a 16.1 percent increase given in a closed session two weeks ago.

But Schiavone said the Council would have to cut about $1 million from the budget draft in order to get under the tax cap, which for Lockport is 3.22 percent this year.

Schiavone said, “Having gone through all the numbers, the layoffs you already removed from the budget, we have a long, long way to go.”

And not much time to make the trip. McCaffrey said the Council wants to hold a public hearing Nov. 12 and pass the budget Nov. 19, in line with an expected amendment to the City Charter that would make budget adoption night the second Council meeting in November. The Council is expected to vote on that schedule change next Wednesday.

The State Comptroller’s Office must approve the budget before final passage, in line with the terms of an emergency borrowing package in which the city will be permitted to borrow up to $5.35 million.

The city went for a short-term borrowing of $4.57 million Tuesday, and the final 10-year bond package is expected to be about the same figure.