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Niagara Legislature passes county budget with small increase in tax levy, small drop in countywide rate

LOCKPORT – The Niagara County Legislature passed a 2016 budget Tuesday that includes a small increase in the tax levy and a small decrease in the countywide average tax rate.

The $339.1 million spending plan increases the amount to be collected in property taxes by 1.77 percent. The average tax rate will be $7.38 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, down by 3.7 percent, or 28 cents per $1,000, from the 2015 figure. Those figures are identical to the tentative budget submitted last month by County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz, which is the first time that this has ever happened.

The 2016 tax rates by municipality are:

Cambria, $7.86 per $1,000; up by 11 cents from 2015; Hartland, $7.39, down by 28 cents; Lewiston, $10.12, up by 41 cents; City of Lockport, $7.47, down by 21 cents; Town of Lockport, $7.40, down by 28 cents; Newfane, $8.21, down by 13 cents; Town of Niagara, $13.49, up by65 cents.

Also, Niagara Falls, $8.82, up by 28 cents; North Tonawanda, $8.16, down by 23 cents; Pendleton, $8.20, up by 5 cents; Porter, $8.40, up by 24 cents; Royalton, $7.38, down by 28 cents; Somerset, $7.54, down by 13 cents; Wheatfield, $11.38, up by 25 cents; and Wilson, $8.79, up by 27 cents.

Spending in the budget rises by $2.46 million, or 0.73 percent, from this year’s version.

A stack of 17 proposed budget amendments from the four-member Democratic minority would have nearly wiped out the tax levy increase. But the Republican majority turned down 16, and one was withdrawn. The measures would have done away with several patronage jobs filled by GOP loyalists, made a variety of other cuts and increased the estimated sales tax revenues.

The only break in the party-line uniformity came from Legislator John Syracuse, R-Newfane. He voted with the Democrats to get rid of Public Information Officer Christian W. Peck, who is to be paid $62,914 next year.

The four Democrats then voted against the budget, but nine Republicans voted for it. Legislator Randy R. Bradt, R-North Tonawanda, also voted no. Legislator Michael A. Hill, R-Hartland, was absent.

On Seneca Niagara Casino revenue, the Legislature decided along party lines to cap distributions to municipalities at $300,000, based on their population. The county will keep the rest, up to 75 percent of the total, which County Treasurer Kyle R. Andrews said was actually about $900,000 this year and might turn out to be a similar number in 2016.

The other 25 percent is for the Legislature to spend as it sees fit on “community development initiatives,” which in practice has been a series of small grants to local organizations.

The Republican majority, which has no members from Niagara Falls, has continued to make the Falls ineligible for either type of funding, on the grounds that Niagara Falls has its own share of casino cash.

The budget also includes a pay package for Republican County Clerk-elect Joseph A. Jastrzemski. In 2016, he is to be paid $92,844, the same salary that retiring County Clerk Wayne F. Jagow received this year. There will be a 2 percent raise for Jastrzemski in each of the ensuing three years. The Democrats voted no, preferring a 10 percent pay cut for the clerk in 2016.