LOCKPORT – The Niagara County Legislature adopted a 2013 budget Tuesday night that reduced the increase in the property tax levy from the 3.7 percent in the tentative budget to a final figure of 1.89 percent.
The three-member Democratic minority proposed amendments to the spending plan that would have eliminated the tax hike altogether, but the 12-member Republican-led majority wouldn’t go that far.
“We did our job. We had all the resolutions that reduced the budget. They didn’t have any,” said Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls. “The minority caucus was able to deliver a 2 percent tax increase, which could have been zero.”
The budget passed by a 10-5 vote, with Republicans Kathryn L. Lance of Wheatfield and Cheree J. Copelin of Niagara Falls joining Falls Democrats Virtuoso, Owen T. Steed and Jason A. Zona in voting no.
The Republicans did adopt the Democrats’ suggestion for a $900,000 increase in the estimated sales tax revenue for next year. The GOP initially had proposed a $500,000 increase, which was the most County Treasurer Kyle D. Andrews, D-Wilson, felt was prudent.
However, Virtuoso distributed a chart showing that the county exceeded the sales tax projections in the budget in each of the past six years, including a $7.2 million overage in 2011.
The jump from 2010 to 2011 was a record $5.2 million increase in one year, which Andrews attributed to a spike in gasoline prices, increased auto sales and the opening of the Walmart supercenter in Niagara Falls.
“When we put the 2012 budget together, we didn’t know if it was sustainable,” Budget Director Daniel R. Huntington said.
The budget as proposed by County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz estimated next year’s sales tax at $60,950,000, which in itself was a $2.5 million increase from the 2012 budget estimate.
Friday, Glatz had criticized a further $900,000 increase in the sales tax estimate as “like playing Russian roulette.”
But Tuesday night, he noted the Legislature dropped the notion of cutting the county self-insurance fund by $360,000. It went down by $68,000 to counteract the need to restore some overtime to the Sheriff’s Office budget.
“The way I look at it is, it’s kind of a wash,” Glatz said.
As a result of that and numerous other changes, the final budget of $321.8 million showed a spending increase of $5.3 million, or 1.67 percent.
The tax levy was trimmed by $1.3 million as a result of the amendments, with a 1.89 percent increase remaining.
Property tax rates for the individual municipalities are:
Cambria, $7.73 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, an increase of 9 cents from 2012; Hartland, $7.74, up 10 cents; Lewiston, $9.43, unchanged; City of Lockport, $7.74, up 9 cents; Town of Lockport, $7.75, up 9 cents; Newfane, $8.05, up 26 cents; Town of Niagara, $13.16, up 14 cents.
Also, Niagara Falls, $8.43, up 18 cents; North Tonawanda, $8.03, up 9 cents; Pendleton, $7.96, up 17 cents; Porter, $8.14, down 26 cents; Royalton, $7.89, up 2 cents; Somerset, $7.73, down $2.33; Wheatfield, $11.22, up 13 cents; Wilson, $8.40, up 18 cents.
The variations are caused by changes in each community’s assessment rolls. Somerset’s, in particular, was altered by its first townwide reassessment in many years, Real Property Services Director John E. Shoemaker said.
Lawmakers rejected a Democratic proposal to eliminate three patronage jobs: Legislature clerk, county auditor and public information officer. Counting benefits, that would have saved $270,489.
The GOP also turned down Virtuoso’s proposal to cut $150,000 by having county workers instead of a private company move stored records from the Lockport storage buildings to a former Newfane mattress factory leased from Lockport developer David L. Ulrich.
Other budget amendments included pay raises of 2.5 percent per year for the next four years for Sheriff James R. Voutour, whose pay was flat during the past four years.
The Legislature majority refused to cut the pay of the administrator of the conflict defender’s office even though the incumbent, Robert M. Pusateri, is retiring. Also, it gave a 33 percent raise to part-time Personnel Officer Joseph A. Vacanti Jr., from $15,000 to $20,000 a year. The Democrats sought to delete that raise.
The Legislature voted to drop Capital Public Strategies, the lobbying firm that was working on support for the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station. That work will go to another firm, Masiello, Martucci and Calabrese, Glatz said.
The county’s 2014 budget process already begins with a 3 percent tax increase lined up, Huntington said.
The county already knows Medicaid costs will rise $475,000 in 2014; pension fund contributions will have to increase $1.2 million because of a decision by the State Comptroller’s Office; and the county will lose $858,000 in revenue from the restructuring of the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, arrangement for the Somerset power plant formerly owned by AES Corp.