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LOCKPORT – Mayor Michael W. Tucker told the audience at Wednesday night’s public hearing on the 2014 city budget that he expects that layoffs in the Police Department will be avoided, even though for now, four job cuts are still in the spending plan.

The total number of city layoffs was reduced from 17 to 16, with the restoration of one position in the Fire Department, but eight firefighters are still on the chopping block.

“I think I can safely say it’s unlikely there will be any police officers laid off,” Tucker said, noting that the department and its union have delivered some cost-saving suggestions. “We continue to talk to the Fire Department. Before this budget is passed next week, there could be some movement there.”

Tucker also said a water rate increase that was expected after Tuesday night’s work session, blamed on the accidental omission of retiree health insurance, will be avoided through adjustments in other expenditures.

But there will be a 1.7 percent increase in the property tax levy, according to the tentative budget distributed at the hearing. If it remains by the time the Common Council votes on the budget on Wednesday, it would be the city’s first tax increase in four years.

John Schiavone, the Lumsden & McCormick accountant who is handling budget preparation this year, said the increase for a home assessed at $85,000 would be $28.73. The tax rate would be $15.07 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, an increase of 34 cents.

Schiavone said the city is allowed to slightly exceed the official tax cap of 1.66 percent because the total assessed valuation in the city is lower than last year’s.

“We have to keep our firefighters. We have to keep our police. We have to keep our building inspectors,” resident Sue Wienke said. “If there’s a moderate tax increase, we have to bite that bullet.”

But no one had anything good to say about the layoffs – least of all David Miller, the building inspector who is to lose his job.

“I’m a husband. I’m a father,” Miller said. “Can you tell my kids why I’m going to be out of a job the first of the year?”

No one on the Council replied. Miller said the city hasn’t played fair with his union, the Civil Service Employees Association.

Miller said, “Can you tell the public what you offered CSEA? Nothing.”

“Good for you that you didn’t take it then, I guess,” Tucker answered.

Resident Jean Kiene said Building Inspection is one of the few city departments that generates revenue. Miller got Schiavone to admit he didn’t take that into account in calculating the impact of the layoffs.

“Layoffs are not numbers. They are people, hardworking people,” said former firefighter Mark Devine, who pointed out that the cuts would reduce Fire Department strength from 47 to 39 members.

Former County Legislator William M. Davignon, now the countywide president of CSEA, called the city’s decision not to raise taxes in recent years “irresponsible.”

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com