Tonawanda News

October 30, 2013

Budget talks nearing end

By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — The North Tonawanda Common Council worked its way through hours of budget talks on Tuesday with a variety of department heads in lieu of a public hearing scheduled for Nov. 7.

If approved by the council during a Nov. 12 vote, Mayor Rob Ortt’s preliminary 2014 budget of $36,576,474 would hold the line on taxes, water and sewer rates, earmark roughly $800,000 for paving projects on city roadways and replace four police cruisers with $130,000, among a slew of other initiatives.

Police Chief William Hall pointed to the likely need for two additional patrol officers next year, with the expectation that two current veteran members of the force will retire in February. He also requested that the council consider adding a fifth cruiser to its budgetary portfolio, with many of the department’s fleet of vehicles accruing high milage and maintenance costs since they were purchased in 2009. 

“I would like it to be $175,000,” Hall said, of adding more money for vehicles in the department “that are getting better gas milage.” 

The topic of bolstering the number of officers beyond the department’s current 47 was widely discussed during council and mayoral debates held last week. Democrats stressed that they would put an emphasis on public safety, a point that Ortt disputed as outside of the confines of what the city can afford, adding he believes that the number of officers in place keep residents of the municipality safe. 

City Engineer Dale Marshall discussed the potential for using Department of Public Works employees for smaller scale storm sewer separations projects, with $300,000 budgeted to begin addressing the city’s antiquated water and sewer lines and following record-setting rainfall that caused widespread flooding in the Wurlitzer Park area over the summer. 

Cosimo Capozzi, city building inspector, and the council, talked about the possibility of sizing down a $10,000 bill accrued during the summer and used to pay private contractors to cut the lawns of property owners who violated city ordinances. 

“This has been the most expensive year we’ve had,” he said. 

Several council members conceded that the city has already sized down its employee ranks to skeleton crews, though did not immediately divulge whether many of the department heads’ requests would be considered. 

The requests, which follow months of talks behind close doors, offer only a slim view of the funding tug-of-war that takes place between department heads and Ortt, leading up to a council vote. However, Ortt said when he released it on Oct. 8, that the budget meets his goals of reducing expenses while still providing services. 

Ortt’s budget proposal is $2 million less than the 38,505,154 requested by department heads.