NIAGARA FALLS – Mayor Paul A. Dyster on Tuesday proposed a city budget for next year that calls for no layoffs of city employees and virtually no change to residential and business tax rates.
Dyster outlined a spending plan that raises the residential property tax rate by 0.03 percent, while the business tax rate would fall by about 0.01 percent, which he described as “essentially zero increase.”
While it may seem like welcome news after the “disaster budget” proposal made last fall – which is how the mayor described his own proposal for 2013 – the mayor said it was “a matter of perspective” when viewing the city’s financial outlook.
“It’s a really good result for today and it’s always wonderful to walk out of the budget presentation with no one’s job on the line, with no potential tax increase out there that could, for example, force someone out of their home,” Dyster said. “But at the same time, as I’ve been saying for several years, at some point we have to address these structural problems going forward.”
In a 31-minute budget address in Council Chambers, Dyster outlined a plan that would increase general fund spending by about $1.5 million, while dipping into the city’s reserves to the tune of about $4.4 million.
That’s less than the $4.9 million in reserves allocated in this year’s budget, but “still uncomfortably large,” Dyster said.
Dyster’s budget proposal allocates about $5.2 million in the city’s share of slot machine revenue from Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel.
The mayor pledged no “drastic cuts in services.”
-- Listen to the mayor’s full address here --
He said total city wages will go up by an estimated $1.1 million next year, while pension expenses will actually decrease by $10,000, which represents a savings of nearly $800,000 when compared with what the city would have paid without amortizing, as it has done the last two years, Dyster said.
Health care costs are estimated to increase by about $1.9 million next year, which Dyster’s spending plan partially deals with by dipping into reserves for at least $916,000.
The mayor said he plans to sit down with city unions to try to find ways to reduce costs, possibly through increasing the use of generic prescription drugs and adjusting prescription co-pays.
“We think there is some ‘low-hanging fruit’ out there that creates the opportunity for win-win situations,” Dyster said.
The mayor’s proposal would restore roughly $40,000 to the city administrator’s salary that was cut last year by the Council. It also calls for spending $30,000 on a grant writer, another job that was cut by the Council last year.
In the end, the residential tax rate would go up by about 5 cents for each $1,000 of assessment under the mayor’s proposal. The business tax rate would decrease by about 30 cents for each $1,000 in assessment.
The City Council must approve a budget by the beginning of December.
Council Chairman Glenn A. Choolokian, who received a copy of the budget during Dyster’s address, like other city lawmakers, said he plans to go through the spending plan line by line with Councilman Samuel F. Fruscione.
Choolokian called the budget “good news for taxpayers.”
“If there’s any wasteful spending, we’re going to cut it,” Choolokian said.
Last fall, Dyster proposed an 8.3 percent property tax increase on homeowners and a 5 percent increase on businesses in his initial spending plan for this year. His proposed budget also called for layoffs of the equivalent of 27.5 full-time positions, though some were vacant or would be eliminated through attrition.
The City Council, through spending cuts including about $3 million in funds for USA Niagara Development, the state’s economic development arm in the Falls, adopted a budget for this year that saw no tax increase for homeowners and a small decrease for businesses. Fewer than 10 layoffs ended up being made under the current budget.
Visit The Brink to see a copy of the budget proposal and to hear Dyster’s address.