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Tonawanda Common Council seeking budget cuts, but won't cut police captain positions

With City of Tonawanda property owners facing a nearly 5 percent tax hike, the Common Council is mulling a variety of options to cut about $200,000 in costs from the mayor's $22.3 million budget proposal.

Despite suggestions, no spending cuts were made during council's budget workshop on Monday.

Fourth Ward Councilman Tim Toth proposed eliminating both police captain positions from the 26-member police force and create an assistant police chief position. But that idea was tabled after Chief William Strassburg said the idea to cut captains or lieutenants could cost more in overtime.

Strassburg said the opioid epidemic is causing an increase in some crimes, such as larcenies and burglaries. He has nearly 50 open criminal cases under investigation by the detective bureau and doesn't have the personnel available to take over the captain's duties.

Toth said his goal was to cut the captains positions by attrition to get more patrol officers on the streets and raise revenues for the city.

"I was looking for an economical way to get more patrol guys on the road, not cut personnel," added Toth.

Strassburg said there's four-man minimum staffing on each shift and at least one officer needs to be at the rank of lieutenant. He said he has looked at cutting supervisory costs in the past, but found that overtime costs would far exceed the savings. He said at least 41 times in the past year, the two captains have served as the fourth person on a shift, and an assistant chief can't do that.

The Common Council looked at a number of other options, from decreasing spending on diesel fuel to raising fees for the city's after-school programs. All the councilors agreed they don't want to cut services or staff.

"We are not getting where we want to be. There's just not enough to trim," said Toth.

Councilor Jackie Smilinich said the city should consider selling city-owned properties to raise money. City Treasurer Joseph Hogenkamp said a long-term solution would be to foreclose on more tax-delinquent properties and sell them, which could raise $700,000 to $800,000.

Mayor Rick Davis has been asked to meet with the unions representing city workers to discuss a proposal for union workers to start contributing to their health insurance costs. Those discussions are ongoing, according to the council.

The tentative budget of $22.32 million proposes a tax rate of $18.63 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, up from the current rate of $17.74 per $1,000, an increase of $89 per year for a home assessed at $100,000.

The City Council will have a public hearing on the mayor's budget proposal on Nov. 8. The final budget will be adopted on Nov. 21.


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