TOWN OF NIAGARA – The Town of Niagara building inspection department was cut drastically this week as the Town Board attempted to keep taxes down.

By a 3-2 vote, the board passed a $7.1 million budget for 2013 that cut the building inspector position to part-time and eliminated the job of assistant inspector.

According to Supervisor Steve Richards, the budget next year will carry special district tax decreases of 9 percent for home owners and nearly 7 percent for commercial lands. The anticipated homestead rate for 2013 will be $4.71 per $1,000 of assessed value and $8.47 for non-homestead, according to Richards.

But the reductions didn’t come without a lot of arguing from board members and gavel banging by Richards.

Councilman Danny Sklarski proposed the cuts to the building department along with reductions in the planning and zoning office, which would lower the budget by more than $68,000. Sklarski stressed that the town general fund was “at the tipping point” because of decreases in its share of Niagara County sales tax revenues that resulted from its drop in population. He also blamed increases in medical insurance costs for town employees and pension and retirement costs.

He said a smaller building department would bring the town in line with areas such as Lewiston and Wheatfield, which have larger populations but get by with smaller staffs.

The cut would bring the salary to $28,752 and the current inspector, Charles Haseley, would have to apply for the part-time job, Richards explained.

He was supported by Councilman Charles Teixeira, who said he didn’t want anyone to lose their job but said the board was obligated to lower taxes. He noted that the board had a recovery engineer who would be able to handle large projects such as the expansion of the Prime Outlet Mall.

Deputy Supervisor Marc Carpenter was against the reduction because he said the town could not justify going from two full-time inspectors to one part-time person. He explained that with the number of projects coming to the town, the board should not make the move in haste.

The most vocal opponent was Councilman Robert Clark, who called the move “backdoor and gutless,” and objected to the cuts being brought up at the last minute. He said the board had been in budget discussions for a month but nothing was ever said about cutting the inspections department.

He repeatedly said that the board had until Nov. 20 to approve a budget and should take more time to discuss the move.

Richards cut him off and called for the vote.