LOCKPORT – The proposed 2017 city budget to be presented Wednesday will include a small property tax increase, but exactly how small has not yet been determined.
Finance Director Scott A. Schrader said Friday that it will “absolutely” be more than the state tax cap for the city, which is set at around 0.6 percent.
He said that some new personnel will be in the budget plan, health insurance costs are rising, and the city has debt to pay off.
The city is committed to hiring three new police officers in 2017, under terms of its contract with the police union. Also, four new firefighters are to be hired, but a federal grant that the city obtained this year will pay their salaries and benefits for two years.
Some members of the Common Council are calling for hiring more seasonal workers for the Highways and Parks Department, to work primarily on parks and trees.
“We don’t have the money in the budget to put on full-timers,” said Alderman Joseph P. Oates, R-1st Ward, who has been pushing for more seasonal employees.
Highways and Parks Superintendent Michael E. Hoffman, whose roster includes 27 workers, said the city doesn’t receive many complaints about streets anymore, having paved 12 miles of streets since 2014. Aldermen say they get a lot of calls about parks and trees, as well as about the general cleanliness of the city.
“People pay their taxes for services, and these are the services they want to see,” Oates said. “They want to see the street sweeper once or twice a year. If we’ve got everybody blacktopping, we don’t have anybody to do that.”
Council President David R. Wohleben said he supports Oates’ call for more summer help. “The guys do the best they can. They mow the parks, but there’s no trimming,” Wohleben said.
Schrader said that the cost of health insurance for employees will rise 6 percent and that the city has to pay back 10 percent of its 2014 emergency borrowing of more than $4 million, as well as the money it borrowed to replace a Main Street sewer, waterlines on Lincoln Avenue and South New York Street, and equipment at the sewage-treatment plant.
Oates said that there has been some discussion of hiring a private operator for the city marina in hopes to save money.
Schrader said that under terms of the city’s 2014 bailout, the State Comptroller’s Office must approve the proposed budget 30 days before the Council votes, and the state wants all the spending and revenue estimates to be “realistic.” Schrader said a state representative will be in City Hall for two or three weeks in October, making him account for every line of the budget.
The Council is scheduled to vote on the budget Nov. 16.
Wohleben and Oates said they want to avoid a tax increase. The main question in budget deliberations will be, “How could we move money around to cover some of these expenses?” Oates said.