By Joyce M. Miles
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — The Common Council on Wednesday adopted a 2013 general city budget that projects reduced spending and no increase in the tax rate.
The $22.5 million spending plan was passed by a unanimous vote of the aldermen. The tax rate will remain $14.73 per $1,000 of assessed value.
Whether a new city post will be created, for a marketing and communications director, remained up in the air. After a Tuesday meeting with Niagara Tourism & Convention Corporation executives, Mayor Michael Tucker said he’s leaning toward dropping plans for a city marketing office — so long as NTCC agrees to do a little “more” for Lockport.
The deal being worked, according to Tucker and NTCC Executive Director John Percy, is: NTCC will agree to fully fund the cost of operating the Lockport Trolley in 2013, if the city agrees to pursue a 1 percent increase in its bed tax, to 5 percent. The additional 1 percent would be earmarked for trolley operation in succeeding years.
Continuation of the city’s contract with NTCC doesn’t show up in the final city budget because there’ll be no deal unless the NTCC Board of Directors agrees to pick up the roughly $25,000 trolley tab next year. Board Chairman Frank Strangio, who accompanied Percy to the meeting with Tucker, agreed to take the proposal to the board at its Dec. 13 meeting.
If it works out, Tucker will abandon his proposal to fund a city marketing office by taking city bed tax receipts away from NTCC.
Currently the city is paying the countywide tourism promotion agency 75 percent of annual bed tax receipts in exchange for promotion of Lockport specifically; its payment to NTCC last year exceeded $85,000. Tucker has questioned whether the city is getting “bang for its buck” from the arrangement, and recently said he grew more disenchanted with the agency upon hearing it would not fund any portion of Lockport Trolley operating costs after this year.
Basically the city and NTCC have split the cost every year, but Percy told Tucker that it could no longer do so because Lewiston also wanted its help operating a trolley — and the agency doesn’t have money to put toward either one while it’s not collecting a share of Seneca Niagara Casino profits. Tucker suggested if NTCC wasn’t prepared to do more for a direct funder like the city, then the city shouldn’t fund it anymore.
Percy and Strangio suggested the trolley fund-bed tax increase trade, according to Tucker.
Percy said the City of Niagara Falls increased its bed tax to 5 percent in 2006, and earmarked proceeds of the additional 1 percent to fund trolley service downtown and along Niagara Falls Boulevard.
Concerning Lockport and the trolley fund-bed tax trade, he said, “It’s a continuing conversation. ... Hopefully we can come to a resolution that is acceptable to both parties, so we can continue promoting the city of Lockport and Niagara County tourism.”
Increasing city bed tax would require amendment of the state law authorizing Lockport to collect it.
Alongside approval of the 2013 general fund budget, the Council also adopted a $1.2 million refuse budget, reflecting the annual cost of the city’s refuse collection contract with Modern Corporation and a $167,000 payment on the five-year debt taken to buy refuse and recycling carts; a $4 million water fund budget; and a $4.2 million sewer fund budget.
In other business Wednesday, the Council approved creation of an additional Lockport police detective’s position, for officer Eric Herrington, who has been assigned full-time to the Drug Enforcement Agency Task Force in Buffalo since 2010. Herrington will receive the higher rank and will stay with the task force, according to Tucker.
The city contributing an officer to the task force has benefited it financially, as well as by increasing its access to federal intelligence and anti-trafficking efforts, according to the Council resolution. The city pays Herrington’s wages, the DEA pays his overtime and the city later gets a percentage of assets seized by the task force.
To date, Lockport’s cut of forfeitures consists of more than $100,000 cash and six vehicles — two Mercedez Benz, a Corvette and three Dodge passenger vans — with a combined value of about $100,000. The city has to hold the vehicles for two years before it can auction them off, Tucker said.