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Niagara Falls mayor proposes 2019 tax cut offset by garbage fee

Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster on Friday proposed a 13.2 percent reduction in the residential property rate while imposing a $168 annual garbage user fee.

In his budget address to the City Council, Dyster said the net impact on the average homeowner will be an increase of $25 in city billings.

Council Chairman Andrew P. Touma said the average home assessment in the city is about $70,000, so some residents with lower assessments could see a net reduction in their costs.

The commercial property tax rate would be reduced by 2.7 percent under the Dyster plan. General fund spending of $91.48 million would rise about $55,000 from this year.

"We need to keep our finger on the pulse of the community, accurately gauging what level of services they want us to provide, and helping them figure out how to get what they need at a price they can afford," Dyster said.

He acknowledged that it wouldn't have been possible without the $12.3 million "advance" Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Wednesday, making up for Seneca Niagara Casino payments the Seneca Nation halted in 2016.

"It would not be wise to budget all $12.3 million," Dyster said. He is proposing to use $10.5 million in the budget and send the rest to a reserve fund which was virtually drained to fund this year's spending.

The proposed budget leaves nine vacant positions unfilled: six in the Police Department, two in the Fire Department and one at the central garage, saving about $765,000.

City Controller Daniel R. Morello said the only proposed layoffs would hit two surveyors in the Engineering Department and one clerk in Public Works.

City Engineer John Gerlach's job would be cut to part time — at his own recommendation, Dyster said.

Meanwhile, the police and fire unions have agreed to about $1.85 million worth of concessions, Dyster said.

"It sounded good, but I think it's a lot of fluff," Republican Councilman Kenneth M. Tompkins said. He said there is no cap on the garbage fee, unlike the 2 percent state-mandated cap on property tax levy increases.

However, Touma said when the city approves a new contract with a garbage hauler next spring, the fee will be locked in for the duration of that pact.

"The fee could go down. My understanding is, it will not go up," Touma said.

The Council has until Dec. 1 to make changes in the budget, which Dyster is allowed to veto. A public hearing on the spending plan is set for Oct. 30.

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