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City of Lockport property tax hike OK’d

LOCKPORT – The Common Council voted unanimously for a roughly 10 percent property tax increase Wednesday, and city officials also disclosed increases in water, sewer and refuse-collection rates, which they intend to adopt next week.

The Council also set public hearings for Dec. 3 on increasing the penalties for not paying the water, sewer and refuse bills, including a policy threatening to turn off a customer’s water if a bill isn’t paid in 60 days.

The 2015 budget, adopted Wednesday, raises the tax levy – the total amount to be collected in property taxes – by 9.82 percent. It increases the tax rate, used to calculate the bills, by $1.55 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, or 10.33 percent.

The new rate, $16.62 per $1,000 assessed valuation, will generate a tax increase of $120.31 on the owner of a home assessed at the city average of $77,300.

Total general fund spending will be $22.68 million, which is $1.04 million, or 4.37 percent, lower than this year’s budget.

The city, faced with an accumulated deficit of nearly $5 million because of unrealistic budgeting and massive overspending in 2013, laid off 16 employees at the beginning of this year and 14 others last month. It also privatized the city ambulance service and virtually abolished youth programs while shifting Fire Department dispatching to Niagara County.

Water and sewer usage charges are to be increased by a total of 45 cents per 100 cubic feet of water, with all but a nickel of the increase to be assigned to the water fund to help erase its deficit and build a fund balance, said John P. Schiavone, the Lumsden & McCormick accountant who oversaw the budget. The water usage charge is to rise from $2.50 to $2.90 per 100 cubic feet; the sewer charge would rise from $2.25 to $2.60 per 100 cubic feet.

The city also plans to borrow $495,000 for water system equipment. “It’s repairs they need to make on an annual basis. It’s not really optional,” said Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey.