LOCKPORT – Spending requests in the early stages of the City of Lockport’s 2014 budget show a 13-fold increase in the money allocated for unemployment benefits, raising the possibility of layoffs as part of the eventual spending plan.
Also, the amount to be allocated for state pension fund contributions has so far been left blank. The members of the Police and Fire departments have a separate retirement fund from other city workers, so the blank spots could potentially mean that layoffs are being contemplated in the Police and Fire departments.
“It was tossed around,” Alderman Joseph C. Kibler said Monday when asked about the possibility of public safety layoffs. “We’re waiting for a budget from Lumsden & McCormick, the final one, that will show us where we stand, but that option will be open.”
“Well, I’m not going to talk about that,” Mayor Michael W. Tucker said, “but as I say every budget, layoffs are always a possibility.”
The city hasn’t raised its property tax rate since 2010, and the mayor vowed that it will not do so this year, either.
“We’re not going to raise taxes, and whatever we’ve got to do to get there, we’re going to do,” Tucker said.
The city tax rate peaked at $15.93 per $1,000 of assessed valuation in 2010. For 2011, the rate was cut to $15.24. Last year and this year, the tax rate was $14.73 per assessed thousand. However, a citywide revaluation for the 2012 tax year increased many taxpayers’ bills.
Tucker said any tax levy increase this year is limited to 1.66 percent by the state’s tax cap law.
“You can either raise taxes or cut expenses, and for the last four years, we’ve cut expenses. I don’t see us changing direction,” Tucker said.
Lumsden & McCormick is the accounting firm that was paid $17,500 to prepare this year’s budget documents.
Its last stack of papers for the aldermen, distributed at last week’s work session, was labeled “Budget, Version 1.”
Through a Freedom of Information Law request, The Buffalo News obtained the raw numbers, but several key spots are blank, including the amount to be charged in property tax.
But the amount listed for unemployment insurance costs isn’t blank. It’s listed at $195,000, which is 13 times higher than this year’s allocation of $15,000. It could mean that the Council is planning to produce some unemployment among city workers.
“We haven’t made any decisions yet,” Tucker said. “We’re still working on the budget and the contracts.”
All five city unions are working under terms of expired contracts. Negotiations have been most active with the police and fire unions, Tucker said this summer. The union leaders could not be reached to comment Monday.
Kibler was the only alderman willing to comment on the budget issue. Last week, Council President Anne E. McCaffrey said a budget might be publicly released Wednesday.
The Council has scheduled a public hearing on the budget for 6 p.m. Oct. 9, with a vote tentatively expected Oct. 16.