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Lockport Council completes budget tweaks; vote scheduled Monday

LOCKPORT - The Common Council made a couple of minor changes this week to the proposed 2017 city budget, resulting in a planned property tax increase of less than 3 percent.

The Council can't vote until it holds a public hearing on overriding the state-mandated tax cap. That hearing is set for 5:30 p.m. Monday in City Hall, with the vote to follow.

The aldermen are expected to approve a $24.17 million budget that will increase the tax levy by 2.25 percent and the tax rate by 2.71 percent.

In more than a month of reviewing the budget proposed by Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey, the aldermen reduced a tax rate increase which originally stood at 3.6 percent. The final tax rate, $17.45 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, is 16 cents than McCaffrey proposed, but still 46 cents higher than this year's.

The Buffalo News calculated that the owner of a typical Lockport home, assessed at $85,000, will pay about $39 more in taxes in 2017 than in 2016.

The city's tax cap this year is 0.6 percent.

Alderwoman Anita Mullane, D-2nd Ward, said she unsuccessfully pushed for deeper cuts during a work session Tuesday. Mullane said she sought to reduce the salaries of some officials, whom she declined to name, as well as abolishing the city's Civil Service Commission and turning its duties over to Niagara County.

She also tried to reduce the budget for outside attorneys, in line with her objections to the city's plans for battling the firefighters' union over arbitration for a new contract and appealing a state ruling that said the city violated the union's rights when it privatized the city's ambulance service two years ago.

Finance Director Scott A. Schrader said the budgetary changes this week made little impact. The Council decided to split a new Police Department clerical position, having that person work half the time for the police and the rest of the time for the Water Department. Moving half the cost of the position into the Water Department, which is not funded by property taxes, reduced the tax levy by $31,000 and the tax rate by 4 cents. It was in line with a previous maneuver that moved part of the cost of several employees, including department heads, into the water and sewer funds, enabling a $107,000 reduction in the tax-supported general fund.

Schrader said the aldermen this week moved $100,000 into the contingency fund from the Fire Department budget for paying off the unused sick and vacation days of new retirees.

That did nothing for the bottom line, but it will presumably make the State Comptroller's Office happy. Schrader said the Comptroller's Office, which must preapprove Lockport's budgets for the next eight years as a condition of the city's 2014 fiscal bailout, recommended a larger contingency account and budgeting for retirements, even though Schrader said no firefighters are forecast to retire in 2017.

There is still $125,000 in the retirement buyout fund, which Schrader said will in effect function as a second contingency fund unless there is a surprise retirement.


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