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Water projects to eat up half of projected tax cuts in Town of Lockport

LOCKPORT – More than half of the 2016 property tax reduction projected in the Town of Lockport has disappeared because of the costs of paying off the numerous waterline repair and replacement projects.

There still will be a tax cut in 2016, just not as large as projected when the first budget draft was presented Sept. 16 by Finance Officer Kate Carter.

The board decided Monday to add $400,000 to the water budget to begin paying off a new 20-year bond the town expects to issue next year, converting the cost of some $14 million in water projects which were paid for upfront into short-term notes.

By doing that, the board found itself breaking the state-mandated property tax cap for the water district that covers most of the town. Its water tax rate will jump from last year’s 77 cents per $1,000 of assessment to $1.06, and the tax levy for the district rises by 53.6 percent to $1.22 million.

The town’s “real” tax cap is 1 percent, so even though the budget still offers a tax reduction of $24.48, or 3.65 percent for a home assessed at the town average of $100,000, Supervisor Marc R. Smith said a resolution to break the tax cap is necessary.

Carter said the $400,000 figure for water debt payments surfaced in talks with Town Engineer Robert D. Klavoon over paying for the numerous waterline projects. Smith said, “This will allow us to keep rates stable, as much as we’d like to have a big decrease.”

Smith said Klavoon is to present a proposal for a $5 million to $7 million sewer rehabilitation project, focusing primarily on lift stations. That development squelched the notion of cutting sewer rates.

Smith, who is not running for re-election, told his colleagues, “It’s not prudent for us to lower rates when we’re planning a new sewer project, and it’s not my decision to make.”

Councilman Mark C. Crocker, who is unopposed for supervisor in the Nov. 3 election, said, “We will have a stable and healthy sewer fund and still be able to deliver a cut per house for the year.”

But Councilman Paul W. Siejak said the tax cap situation might rule town property owners out of receiving a state rebate for the water tax increase.

The current $15.57 million budget, with a 2 percent spending increase, might be amended again because the board may add a full-time clerk position in the Building and Assessing Department, where a part-time clerk post is now vacant. That would cost $37,000 in salary and benefits, and the board already added $40,000 for a parking lot project at Day Road Park.

Also Monday, Town Attorney Michael J. Norris presented several pages of fee increases, to be voted on next week.

While the fee for a sewer tap-in is to be reduced from $1,700 to $500, water tap-in charges would rise from $995 to $1,250 for a 1-inch pipe, and from $1,420 to $2,400 for a 2-inch connection.

The proposal also simplifies developers’ public improvement inspection fees, replacing a complex scale with a flat 5 percent of construction cost for a project of less than $150,000, and 4 percent for a project above that figure.