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Proposed Niagara Falls budget cuts tax on homes, hikes business tax

NIAGARA FALLS – Mayor Paul A. Dyster presented Friday a preliminary $91 million 2017 budget that cuts taxes on homeowners and decreases the city’s reliance on casino funds.

The mayor did not include in the budget any funding for a proposed city-wide reassessment, putting that plan on hold. The mayor’s budget calls for a 2.4 percent increase in spending, up from $88.8 million in 2016, but cuts taxes for homeowners by 4.58 percent, while increasing the “non-homestead” tax that businesses pay by nearly six percent.

The budget reduces the amount of casino money used to balance the budget by $1.5 million. While casino revenue spending hit an all-time high over $12 million in 2016, Dyster called 2017 the beginning of a yearly commitment to reduce the use of casino revenues in the general fund.

“We believe the best policy for the city is to reduce reliance on casino funds going forward,” said Dyster. “We are going to advocate for those funds to be used for capital projects.”

The total tax levy of $29.7 million has remained under the rate of inflation, according to Dyster.

The proposed tax rate for homeowners of $17.90 per $1.000 of assessed value is an .82 cent reduction from 2016. A home assessed at $100,000 would cost its owner $1,790, or $82 less. The business tax rate would rise from $32.55 per $1,000 to $34.45 per $1,000, a $1.90 increase.

Dyster explained that the overall equalization rate in the city is 85 percent, but homeowners are assessed at 91 percent of full value, while businesses in the non-homestead tax tier are underassessed at approximately 59 percent of value.

“Because we haven’t done a reassessment in awhile the valuation percentage between homestead and non-homestead (assessments) are drifting apart,” said Dyster. “In order to get a fair share of tax revenue from them you are driven towards the higher tax rate.”

But despite concerns over inequities in assessments, the mayor’s proposed budget does not contain money to conduct a citywide reassessment in 2017 – which has been estimated to cost nearly $1 million.

Dyster said there was a need for a reassessment, but it is an issue that needs to be looked at further.

“If the financial restructuring board recommends the city to take an initiative they may offer grant funding in whole or in part,” added Dyster.

The budget would hold a “healthy fund balance” of more than five percent of the overall budget.

The proposed budget would also consolidate five clean neighborhood programs into a community beautification and SWEET (Sanitation, Waste Education Enforcement Team) program, add $300,000 for the ZOOM (neighborhood cleanup) Program, add a second clean neighborhoods inspector, and expand bulk collection, while cracking down on illegal dumpers.

The mayor’s budget was presented to the City Council on Friday afternoon in advance of the Saturday deadline. The Council will have meetings with department heads at 5 p.m. on Oct. 5, 13, 14 and 20 and a public hearing on the executive budget will be held at 6 p.m. Nov. 1. Budget amendment meetings will be held at 5 p.m. on Nov. 7, 9 and 10. All meetings are open to the public in City Council Chambers at City Hall, 745 Main St.

email: nfischer@buffnews.com

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