By Michael Regan firstname.lastname@example.org
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — The North Tonawanda Common Council unanimously approved a $35,987,840 budget for 2014 on Tuesday, slightly below a proposal released by Mayor Rob Ortt last month, that will not raise property taxes and water and sewage rates.
Ortt had pitched a $36,576,474 budget in early October that appeared likely to remain in place, with council members expressing approval throughout budget discussions, though a final push by Alderman-At-Large Mal Needler to return nearly $600,000 to the fund balance led to last-minute changes.
While the council will use $1.69 million of the $5 million fund balance, it will fall the below the $2.3 million originally slated by Ortt. The remainder of the city’s reserves will now hold firm at $3.3 million, with money initially earmarked for workers compensation and medical costs pulled — a process that continues several months into the New Year before that portion of the capital budget is finalized.
“I’m pleased with the budget and I thought the changes made were good changes,” Ortt said. “You always want to use as little of the fund balance as you need to use.”
Needler who served for years on the Niagara County Legislature and has worked with 27 municipal budgets during his political tenure, said the city would not be put at a disadvantage with the change, and would instead ensure the possibility of utilizing the reserves for an additional year, through 2015.
“This is a good, logical, conservative budget,” he said. “This is a sound budget.”
The budget, which rose from $35,355,401 in 2013, will leave the property tax rate at $13.16 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Water rates are $3 per $1,000 gallons and sewer rates are $4.50 per $1,000 gallons.
The council overall budgeted $2,831,766 for water services, $4,633,350 for sewage and $3,522,511 for capital projects.
Several council members said it was more challenging to keep the status quo over the last two budgetary years, with rising health costs prevailing as one of the larger hurdles, a point that may be addressed as Ortt moves into union talks with some of the city’s 250 municipal employees this summer.
Council President Rich Andres, who will leave in January to join the Niagara County Legislature, said while some of Ortt’s estimates “were a little high” they were mostly “sound,” a direction he said has been rooted in the idea of keeping taxes from rising.
“The highlight to me is holding the line on taxes,” he said, citing moves such as consolidating police dispatch with the county and downsizing some areas of the city’s workforce. “Capital spending is going to save us more money. It’s been positive.”
Third Ward Alderman Eric Zadzilka, who won a third term in elections last week, said he would like to continue keeping taxes from going up for the next several years, though “we have to be careful, we have to keep thinking ahead.”
He added that to do so will entail a hard look at the expense of healthcare for city employees through union negotiations, while keeping sewer and water costs “self-funded.”
“My main focus is looking at some of the personnel expenses,” he said. “I don’t want to sacrifice services or use provocative measures. But we have to keep our ducks in a row. These are some of the things that drive any municipal budgets.”
Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.