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LOCKPORT – The Common Council huddled behind closed doors Tuesday to work on its 2014 budget, after learning that an increase in water and sewer rates is probably going to have to be imposed because the cost of retirees’ health insurance was mistakenly left out of the water and sewer budgets.

Alderman Patrick W. Schrader, D-4th Ward, said a property tax increase up to the state tax cap for the year of 1.6 percent may be imposed, too.

Mayor Michael W. Tucker said the amount of the water and sewer rate increase has yet to be determined. Those budgets accidentally omitted retiree expenses that cost more than $491,000 this year.

The Council had set a goal of avoiding a tax increase, but Council President Anne E. McCaffrey acknowledged last week that an increase might have to be considered.

“It’s starting to look that way,” Schrader said after the meeting.

The tentative general fund budget presented to the Council last week was $162,923 out of balance. John Schiavone of the Lumsden & McCormick accounting firm, who prepared the budget, said that was the additional amount that would have to be cut to avoid a tax increase.

As it was, the budget included the layoffs of 17 city workers, including nine firefighters and four police officers.

Schrader said that layoff number didn’t change during Tuesday’s closed session, which was called on the grounds that the Council was discussing union negotiations.

Tucker has said repeatedly that further concessions are needed from the five city employee unions in order to reduce the number of layoffs in the $23.7 million general fund budget.

That’s the portion funded primarily by property and sales tax receipts, and includes all departments and services except water, sewer and refuse. Those have their own budgetary funds.

Tucker said updated budget details will be available at tonight’s public hearing on the spending plan, set for 6 p.m. in City Hall.

No one caught the omission of retiree health insurance in the water and sewer funds until after Schiavone’s presentation to the Council last week. The lines were simply left blank.

Schrader said the budgets were presented to Schiavone by water director Peter S. Degnan and sewer director Douglas E. Sibolski, both of whom are first-time budget-makers.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com