Tonawanda News

December 19, 2013

County budget draws ire for raises

BY JOE OLENICK joe.olenick@tonawanda-news.com
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Despite angry protests from both inside and outside its chambers, the Niagara County Legislature approved a 2014 budget that lowers taxes for most municipalities, provides raises for most department heads and non-union workers, but leaves out raises for union workers.

The $333 million budget lowers the property tax levy by one-half of a percent or $378,000.

The budget cuts 13 positions and assumes a 4 percent increase in county sales tax collection, up to $64.5 million next year. The county would distribute $47.7 million to its towns and cities and treat the rest as county income.

“Even in light of rising mandated expenses, we managed to pass a responsible budget that eases the burden on county taxpayers while maintaining our fund balance,” said Legislature Majority Leader Rick Updegrove, R-Lockport.

But it was the lack of raises for union workers that dominated budget talk Tuesday. County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz and some department heads will received raises of more than 2 percent.

And for the third straight year, most union workers will not receive annual step increases in pay. 

The Democratic minority offered a series of budget amendments, all of which were defeated 11-3 along caucus lines. That included an amendment to give union workers raises.

Overall, the budget passed by the same margin. Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, said he was voting no not just because of the union raises, but because the tax decrease could have been greater.

“We could’ve gone farther,” Virtuoso said. “Those amendments had $700,000 in cuts and would’ve lowered the tax levy an additional 1 percent.”

Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, a group of union workers gathered outside of the county Court House to protest the proposed raises for department heads and non-union employees. 

Bill Rutland, president American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 182, said giving out pay raises while telling union workers the county was facing financial trouble was wrong. Raises would be denied so to avoid layoffs, unions were told, Rutland said.

“We were told cuts were made because of the fiscal crisis the county is in,” Rutland said.

Rob Meyer, who works as a corrections officer at the Niagara County Jail, said county officials should have handled the situation in a lawful, ethical way. Workers earned those increases, he said.

“You’ve taken away step increases because you can,” Meyer said. “Step increases are compensation for the hard work we do every day. Please do this the right way.”

Handing out raises and having a surplus means the county is not in a fiscal crisis, Rutland said. 

“We were lied to, we were duped,” Rutland told the Legislature. “Restore the integrity of this body. Keep promises. Show leadership.”

Virtuoso and Legislator Jason A. Zona, D-Niagara Falls, backed up the union workers’ position. 

“There are people who shouldn’t be getting 10 percent raises, people who shouldn’t be getting 8 percent raises, at a time when we’re telling our union employees they can’t get raises,” Virtuoso said.

2014 PROJECTED COUNTY TAX RATES (per $1,000 of assessed land value) • CITY OF LOCKPORT $7.62, down 12 cents from 2013 • TOWN OF LOCKPORT $7.62, down 13 cents • CAMBRIA $7.61, down 12 cents • HARTLAND $7.61, down 13 cents • NEWFANE $8.27, up 22 cents • PENDLETON $7.92, down four cents • ROYALTON $8.27, up 38 cents • SOMERSET $7.61, down 12 cents • WILSON $8.27, down 13 cents

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