By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News
NORTH TONAWANDA — In a reversal of last year’s budget hearing in North Tonawanda, when unions members and police officers flooded into council chambers en masse to oppose the consolidation of the police dispatch unit with Niagara County, Thursday’s meeting went off with little fanfare.
Only two residents were on hand to voice their opinions, though overall, they lauded the 2013 budget, which holds the line on taxes to zero increase for the second year in a row despite a $705,556 jump in spending over 2012. The city budget clocks in at $35,355,401 for the coming year.
Charles Battaglia, who lives near Meadow Drive and was looking for more details related to the planned extension of the thoroughfare, said while he is liked the prospect of tax, water and sewer rates remaining the same, he’d like to see the status quo etch downward with a decrease in the tax rate, which stands at $13.16 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation.
“We’re satisfied but we still want to continue to improve,” he said of city taxpayers.
Mayor Rob Ortt said he agreed with that sentiment, with his platform of fiscal conservatism at the forefront of his administration as well as budget preparations.
Yet despite the city’s workforce being slashed by 50 slots during the last several years and other consolidation measures, rising pension and medical insurance costs prevent that scenario from coming to fruition, with a 20 percent combined jump in 2012 alone adding $1.2 million to the city’s financial responsibility.
“I’d love to cut taxes as much as anyone,” he said. “I live here too. But we’re very proud of this budget and the fact we held the line.”
Council President Rich Andres pointed to changes made among various departments that have put pressure on efficiency standards prefaced by renegotiated insurance rates with civil service unions, while other council members sought no extraneous budgetary amendments.
“The costs have gone up so much in the way of health care and pensions,” Andres said. “Had we not had this reality we could have dropped the (tax rate).”
Battaglia, meanwhile, said he believes the Meadow Drive extension project, planned to launch in the spring, will alleviate traffic congestion along Nash Road and leave the potential for more business and housing opportunities that may add to the city’s tax base. He also praised the city’s leadership for sticking to a three-year plan to rejuvenate dilapidated roadways throughout the city, which is moving into its final year.
Ortt and Andres said the common council will size up the more than $1.9 million capital budget in the months ahead, that could see some changes as the construction season nears.
The council is expected to approve the budget on Tuesday.
Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.