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Niagara County budget reduces spending, trims tax rate

LOCKPORT – Niagara County Manager Richard E. Updegrove unveiled Tuesday a proposed 2017 county budget that reduces spending and cuts the average tax rate to its lowest level of the 21st century.

If the budget is passed without changes, the average tax bill for a home assessed at $100,000 will fall by $11, Updegrove and Budget Director Daniel R. Huntington said.

The average tax rate is set at $7.27 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, which is 11 cents less than this year and 39 cents less than in 2015.

However, the actual impact will vary from community to community because of differing valuation levels. The total amount to be collected in taxes is rising 1.63 percent, below the county's tax cap of 1.74 percent.

Updegrove, preparing his first budget as manager after eight years as Legislature majority leader, said he told every department to reduce spending by 2 percent to 3 percent. The result was a budget of $338.8 million, which is $575,000 less than this year's version.

Those reductions did not include layoffs, however. Huntington said the total county work force remains the same.

The County Legislature will review the budget in committee starting next week, and will complete that process before a public hearing is held Dec. 6. The Legislature is expected to vote Dec. 13 on amendments and on final passage of the spending plan.

"We embraced the message of (Legislature) Chairman (W. Keith) McNall in his State of the County address, where he laid out some very specific goals and challenged the government and our department heads to operate more efficiently and to continue to reduce the tax burden," Updegrove told reporters.

The goal had to be met while absorbing union contract settlements that included multiyear pay raises, while sales tax receipts are falling because of decreasing gasoline prices and the fall in the value of the Canadian dollar, which is hurting cross-border shopping in Niagara County.

The budget assumes that sales tax revenue will decrease by $635,000, or nearly 1 percent.

Health insurance costs for employees and retirees are rising 2.64 percent, or $770,000, but Huntington said the increase was less than it could have been, since the new union contracts force many employees to begin paying a share of the premiums. Without that, he said, the increase would have been 6 percent.


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