LOCKPORT – When the Niagara County Legislature votes Tuesday night on amendments to the proposed 2013 county budget, cutting the 3.7 percent increase in the tax levy will be the main order of business.
Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, submitted a stack of proposed amendments Friday that, if adopted in full, would wipe out the tax increase.
The majority Republicans have yet to disclose their ideas, but Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, promised reductions in the tax hike.
“We will make alterations to the budget proposed by the county manager, because 3.7 percent on the levy is unacceptable,” Updegrove said. “Whatever budget we come up with will be well below the [property tax] cap.”
The state’s 2 percent property tax cap has several exceptions, and Budget Director Daniel R. Huntington has calculated that because of those exceptions, the county’s “real” tax cap for 2013 is 5.08 percent.
Wiping out the tax increase would require a $2.65 million combination of increases in other revenues or further spending cuts. County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz’s proposed budget eliminates 40 positions, 14 of which are currently filled.
Virtuoso proposed several “big-ticket” changes, the chief one being a further increase of $900,000 in the amount of expected sales tax revenue.
Glatz’s budget had already anticipated a $2.5 million jump in sales tax income.
Friday, Glatz called any substantial jump in that estimate dangerous, saying, “It’s like playing Russian roulette.”
County Treasurer Kyle R. Andrews said, “At this point, I would be comfortable with taking this budget figure and upping it by $500,000.”
He said through the end of October, the most recent figures available, the county was showing “a mild increase” over the 2011 sales tax pace.
Virtuoso said the county chronically underestimates sales tax receipts.
“It’s probably going to go up $1.5 million this year,” he said. “I haven’t been wrong on sales tax yet. Every year I keep saying they underestimated it and I’m right every year. I don’t feel I’m wrong this year, either.”
Andrews said, “It’s our job to present an honest number, and I think we did that in the original budget, an honest number and one which reflects our county’s history of fiscal conservatism.”
He warned that overdoing the sales tax estimate runs the risk of a sudden downturn producing a shortfall that could force the county to “dip into [its] fund balance mid-year.”
“A budget shortfall is another way of saying the taxpayers would have to pick it up next year,” Updegrove said.
Virtuoso also proposed keeping the county’s contribution to its self-insurance fund at this year’s figure of $340,000. Glatz had proposed hiking that funding to $700,000.
Updegrove said the Republicans have talked about the insurance fund, too. “All suggestions from the minority caucus will not be summarily dismissed,” he said.
Virtuoso also proposed cutting the contingency fund by $100,000; trimming all departments’ overtime budgets by 5 percent, saving another $99,000; and using $773,000 in debt reserve funds in addition to the $10 million Glatz proposed to appropriate from the regular surplus.