By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News
— Under a 2013 budgetary plan released on Monday by North Tonawanda Mayor Rob Ortt, the city would not raise property taxes or water and sewer fees for the second year in a row.
The plan also calls for the continuation of consolidation efforts among city departments, an increase in infrastructure investments and an expansion of the city’s recycling program, which has become more profitable during the last several years.
The $35,355,401 budget total represents a $703,556 increase in spending when compared to 2012, although the common council would still need to give approval. The city will hold several public hearings between now and the Nov. 15 vote.
Ortt said the city will save an estimated $260,000 after 11 city employees took a retirement incentive offered in July, with plans to replace only six of those positions.
He added that during the last three years of his administration, the city has shaved 50 full-time positions out of its ranks, which equals out to more than 20 percent of its workforce. With an average salary of $52,000 for those unfilled jobs, the city has reduced nearly $2.6 million from its annual costs.
Ortt said fiscal responsibility continues to be at the heart of his political philosophy.
“That’s what’s happening in the private sector and government should be no different,” he said.
Ortt said the vast majority of jobs that have been eliminated were possible through attrition, while his administration continues to look at cost-savings measures, including a plan to move five employees from the water department to the department of public works – a measure he said will allow the use of shared services and equipment — and the reduction of some city-owned vehicles through an interdepartmental program that would share them.
The city would pour $825,000 into its roads and sidewalks, with about half of that bonded, while the other portion has already been acquired through state grants.
The mayor said he also plans to add 1,000 35-gallon recycling totes to the residential portfolio, at a cost of $25,000, after a surge in demand.
Council President Rich Andres, who said he and the council have only seen a preliminary version of the budget, said he is in favor of many of the measures Ortt initially presented, particularly holding the line on taxes. But would make some amendments.
Chief among his concerns is a $1.2 million increase in health insurance and pension costs, though he said much of the blame for the jump can be attributed to uncontrolled market rates. He also pointed to the fact that all of the city unions have given concessions for both.
Andres said he’d would like to see even more investment in the city’s roadways as well as dozens of trees added to Oliver Street as an early effort to resuscitate the street that once stood as the Lumber City’s commercial center.
Overall, Andres cited Ortt’s reputation as a fiscal hawk as reassuring to the council as a whole, despite the likelihood that there will be changes to the budget. The council had little input in the current budgetary design.
“The mayor really does take the idea of his budget versus our budget seriously,” Andres said. “He does his budget then we go through it and see if we agree.”
Ortt will give a presentation before the council tonight.
Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.