Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

November 14, 2013

Water, sewer rates will not be raised

Taxes up, police could avoid layoffs; firefighters could lose eight

BY JOE OLENICK joe.olenick@lockportjournal.com
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — The city tax levy is up, layoffs are down and water and sewer rates are unchanged in the latest version of the 2014 city budget.

Mayor Michael W. Tucker said Wednesday the budget currently includes the layoffs of four police officers, eight firefighters and one employee each from the building inspection, youth, highway and city clerk’s departments.

But, Tucker added, he expects police personnel cuts will be avoided. The union and the department met the Common Council halfway, Tucker said, and delivered some cost-cutting measures.

“I think I can safely say it’s unlikely there will be any police officers laid off,” Tucker said.

The fire department still faces the possibility of eight layoffs, one less than a day earlier. City officials will continue to talk with firefighters, Tucker told residents who attended the Council’s annual public hearing on the proposed budget.

“Before this budget is passed next week, there could be some movement there,” he said.

In the $23.7 million spending plan that was presented to the public Wednesday, the tax levy would increase by 1.7 percent, to $10.6 million.

The tax levy is the total amount of property tax to be collected, citywide. The tax rate is derived by dividing the levy into total taxable property value.

The 2014 tax rate at this point would be $15.07 per $1,000 of assessed property value, a 34-cent increase over this year’s rate.

John Schiavone of Lumsden & McCormick, the accounting firm in charge of putting together the city budget this year, said the tax bill on a home assessed for $85,000 would increase by $28.73.

If the Council votes next week to adopt the budget, it’ll be the first time in four years that the group agreed to raise the levy.

On the other hand, water and sewer rates won’t be increased as some aldermen feared Tuesday, when it was learned that the $491,000 expense of water and sewer retirees’ health insurance had not been written into the proposed 2014 water and sewer fund budgets.

Rather than raise utility rates, Schiavone said, he and the Council identified miscellaneous line item cuts in both funds’ budgets.

Speakers at Wednesday’s hearing had varying opinions about the prospect of a property tax hike. Some felt it’s needed to preserve Lockport’s quality of life.

“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.”

The proposed layoffs drew the most response. And no one seemed to be in favor of them.

“Layoffs are not numbers. They are people, hardworking people,” said former firefighter Mark Devine.

Devine said the original nine job cuts would reduce fire department strength from 47 to 39 members.

The loss of a building inspector was lamented by resident Jean Kiene, who said the department is one of the few that generates revenue.

David Miller, the city building inspector who will probably lose his job, brought his children to the budget hearing.

“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?”

City officials did not respond. Miller charged them with failing to deal with his union, the Civil Service Employee Association, fairly.

According to Schiavone, his budget team did not account for revenue losses that might come with workforce reductions. The building inspection department generates revenue by issuing building permits, contractor licenses and other fee-bearing permits.

Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241 or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick.

Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241 or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick.