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Dec 14, 2019

Falls City Council splits on property tax increase

The Falls City Council made one last change to Mayor Paul Dyster’s proposed 2020 budget Wednesday night and the city’s spending plan for the new year is now complete.

The council, by a vote of 4-1, with Council Member William Kennedy in opposition, modified a 2 percent property tax increase that was contained in a previously approved version of the budget, splitting the increase evenly between homestead and non-homestead taxpayers.

“It evens (the property tax increase) out,” Council Chairman Andrew Touma said. “We thought it was balanced.”

Dyster had originally proposed a 2.13 percent property tax increase, with the entire increase being placed on non-homestead properties. In his budget presentation, Dyster said that shift would have effectively provided a property tax cut of 3.13 percent to Falls homeowners.

“We thought the commercial properties were taking too much of a hit,” Touma said, noting the council had also cut the mayor’s overall property tax hike by about 0.13 percent or $350,000.

As for the increase in residential property taxes, Touma said a loss of businesses, tied to higher property tax rates, would have ultimately been passed-on to homeowners.

“If we lose more businesses, it’s going to put a burden on (homeowners) in the long run,” Touma said.

On Monday, the council overrode 10 vetoes made by Dyster to amendments to his proposed budget. Those vetoes had restored council cuts to police and fire department overtime lines, a reduction in the city’s risk management fund and the elimination of budget lines for consultants in the Corporation Counsel’s office and the Department of Economic Development.

The veto overides restore cuts of $50,000 in police overtime, $100,000 in firefighter overtime and $100,000 to the risk management fund, which had been funded, after the council cut, with $550,000.

The budget also eliminates 17 employee positions, five of which are currently vacant.

The council also amended Dyster’s proposal to create a $218-per-year solid waste disposal user fee, by cutting it to $188 a year or just over $15 a month. The fee will be billed to property owners and needs to be reauthorized every year as part of the budget approval process.

It cannot be increased by more than 3.5 percent per year during the term of the city’s current waste removal contact with Modern Disposal.

The user fee, property tax increases and job cuts are designed to close what Dyster had described as a “potential $4.1 million dollar budget deficit.”

Absent those revenue increases, the mayor said the city faced the stark choices of a property tax increase to 95 percent of the constitutionally allowed levy or the elimination of 70 to 80 city employee positions. Dyster said the job eliminations would cut 25 police officers and 25 firefighters.

The mayor had called the potential job cuts “catastrophic.”

Source:  Niagara Gazette

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