LOCKPORT – The Niagara County Legislature’s Democratic minority will offer a package of budget amendments at tonight’s meeting that would increase the small tax cut in the budget while restoring the annual “step increases,” pay raises for union employees that were deleted from the budget two years ago.
The Democrats said late Monday that the money, nearly $1 million, can be found by increasing the estimated sales tax revenue and by making a variety of other cuts, including the abolition of several patronage jobs controlled by the Republican majority in the Legislature.
With those adjustments, the reduction in the property tax levy would be larger than that proposed by County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz, whose tentative budget submitted Nov. 15 called for a cut of one-half of 1 percent in the amount to be collected in property taxes.
The Democratic plan, if adopted in full, would make the tax reduction about 1.5 percent, according to Legislator Jason A. Zona, D-Niagara Falls.
“They’re proposing a small tax decrease that we’re going to push even further,” Zona said.
If the amendments don’t pass at tonight’s meeting, the union employees would go without pay increases for a third consecutive year.
“It’s hurting negotiations with the unions. It’s the biggest thing holding up Niagara County,” Zona said. “Financially, we can do this for 2014. It’s a good faith move with the unions, honoring the contracts they signed.”
The main source of revenue to pay the union raises comes from a $700,000 increase in the estimated sales tax revenue.
Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, said another source of funding for the union raises is a reduction of $300,000 in the amount Glatz proposed to deposit in the county’s self-insurance fund.
Virtuoso said that fund, which protects the county from liability, contains $3.7 million, and Glatz wanted to boost it by $600,000. Virtuoso said the county can get by with a deposit of half that amount.
But it’s sales tax that often is used as a means of reducing property tax estimates, and Zona said the figures have typically come in well above the amount estimated in the spending plans.
“It was underestimated again, which is normal,” Zona said. “Of course the county manager is going to do this in a conservative manner, but sales are still increasing. We think $700,000 is a safe amount, especially from the number of new businesses in the Niagara Falls Boulevard-Military Road corridor alone. We just feel this is going on the historical trend.”
Glatz and Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, could not be reached for comment Monday night.
Legislator David E. Godfrey, R-Wilson, agreed with the Democrats that the county’s sales tax estimates “are usually conservative.”
However, Godfrey said, “Whether we should increase that specifically for steps is a decision the county manager should be involved in, because he is in negotiations.” Godfrey added that the budget as presented estimates that sales tax revenue will rise $2.2 million, which is slightly more than 4 percent.