By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News
NORTH TONAWANDA — The North Tonawanda Common Council unanimously adopted a 2013 budget Tuesday with just one last-minute amendment.
The council appropriated $35,355,401 for next year’s general fund that will leave residents with zero property tax increases, while also holding the line on water rates at $3 per 1,000 gallons and sewer rates at $4.50 per 1,000 gallons.
Among the bulk of those appropriations, 34 percent will go to city employees benefits, 27 percent for public safety and 11 percent for general government support. Nearly $16 million of the total budget will come from local property taxes.
The budget will rise $703,556 over 2012, with the increase covered by the city’s general fund balance, which now stands a $1.3 million. The 2013 capital improvement budget is set at $3,209,925.
Overall, it was a largely uneventful budgetary process among the Republican-controlled council, with most members generating a consensus on how the city’s fiscal future should be mapped out.
After bucking the mayor’s plan to hire two new firefighters during an informal poll held in October, the council reversed its decision Tuesday to send one of the employees to the police department, agreeing to follow Mayor Rob Ortt’s blueprint.
However, while the status quo will remain, council President Rich Andres said the city will budget for an additional police department member by early summer, when an officer-to-be graduates from the academy.
The police department has accrued roughly $200,000 in overtime costs this year, though $25,000 will be set aside for the new hire’s salary and benefits to finish out 2013.
“It was a compromise we brokered as a way to sort of mend fences,” Andres said.
Few other contentious moments took place among council members over the budget, while only two residents were on hand Thursday for a public hearing — an about-face from last year’s budget scenario when union members fiercely objected the police dispatch consolidation with the Niagara County.
“I think overall the budget is a good product for the taxpayers,” Andres said. “I don’t think there’s a possibility to make everyone happy all the time, but we do our best to manage all our resources, we do our best for the taxpayers. Hopefully it’s a good one for them and the city workers.”
Third Ward Alderman Erie Zadzilka lauded the council for what he described as “a good budget session with good communication,” and former county legislator and current Alderman-At-Large Mal Needler said based on his past experience the proceedings were “professionally done.”
“I think we processed a very fiscally responsible budget,” Ortt said. “I’m glad it’s over.”
Andres added it would be difficult to surmise how the 2013 budget will affect the future financial picture, though he did emphasize the “uncontrollable costs” of employee health care and pensions as a factor.
City Clerk-Treasurer Scott Kiedrowski said while the city cannot control health care and pension increases, “it can control the tax rate.”
“Hopefully next year will be the same,” he said.
Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.