Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

November 29, 2012

OUR VIEW: City budget could lead to disaster

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — City leaders passed a $22.5 million budget last week and — surprise, surprise — there’s no increase in the tax rate. Still, there’s nothing to cheer in this budget, and one wonders what taxpayers will face with future budgets.

According to the numbers, the 2013 spending plan is $700,000 less than the current budget. That sounds great but, as they say, the devil is in the details.

Most of the savings is projected in employee fringe benefits in union contracts. However, the city as of last week had only started negotiations with two of its five employee unions. That means there is much work to be done and no guarantee that the unions will cede some — or any — of their perks. Additional savings is projected in the elimination of eight veteran employees in the police, fire and public works departments. There’s also less overtime budgeted for 2013.

These “savings” sound more like a recipe for disaster.

Are benefits too generous? Absolutely, and pursuing a better deal for city residents should continue to be pursued. The employees know that the city is going to ask for concessions, but how much are they willing to give? Mayor Mike Tucker and the city council’s assumptions of savings based on the generosity of the unions is an incredibly high risk. Furthermore, attrition will very likely force more overtime because there will be fewer bodies available to get jobs done.

The unions could decide to take their contract battles to the courts. That could tie up negotiations for months. The chances of the municipality winning isn’t good. In addition, there are cost increases every year — from inflation, contracts, unforeseen issues, and more — and to not budget for these is negligent on the part of city lawmakers.

What this budget appears to do is simply kick the can down the road. It’s like a homeowner cranking up the heat in the winter but continuing to budget the gas bill at the summer consumption rates and then, when the gas is turned off, blaming the gas company.

Our city leaders were elected to act responsibly and in the best interest of residents (taxpayers.) This budget indicates they’re not.

Yet, they’re stuck with two unpleasant choices: gamble on concessions or raise taxes. It seems the better — and sensible — approach would have been to offer a modest tax increase for 2013 so that the city isn’t faced with a monster hike a year from now.