by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — Taxes for Village of Lewiston residents will remain the same throughout the next fiscal year.
Village trustees adopted the proposed 2013-14 spending plan at the village board's Monday meeting, holding steady on its charge to residents from the current year's level. The budget will ask for $7.12 per $1,000 assessed value to help fund $2.5 million in spending.
But while the the tax rate will remain the same, village employees of all kinds will receive a little something extra in their paychecks in the form of a 3 percent raise. Everyone from Mayor Terry Collesano and the four trustees to recreation and department of public works employees will see some form of the increase.
So, if the village handed out more money to people, how could it keep its taxes at the same level? Collesano said there was less to spend heading into next year.
"There were some great cuts," the mayor said. "Our superintendent of public works (Bryan Meigs) helped us out a lot. And some of our huge bonds have been paid off. So we're paying less."
According to a copy of the budget, obtained by the Niagara Gazette, debt service payments is indeed this budget's largest savings. The village is expecting to pay $83,500 in principal and interest next year, much lower than the $122,150 it scheduled for the current year. But the savings are almost entirely wiped out by increases in employee benefits, which will rise from $223,500 this year to $261,100 next year.
Lower payments for bonds is a two-fold positive for the village. Not only does the spending decrease allow the village to increase salaries, it also permits the village to consider new work projects which will be bonded in the future.
Collesano said the village has already begun planning future work which will address both sewer and water lines in the village, a constant source of trouble and an area of concern among residents.
"We're going to continue to improve our infrastructure as more funds become available," he said.
Though the budget includes both water and sewer funds, increasing the village's total spending to $3.3 million for 2013-14, those categories are financed through their own charges and surcharges as the village pays the Niagara County Water Department for its water service and the Town of Lewiston for sewer.
But when the village holds its next meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, April 15, it'll begin with a public hearing to possibly decrease those rates for all village residents starting with the upcoming July bills.
Trustees Nicholas Conde and Dennis Brochey spearheaded an effort to investigate the charges while the village was negotiating with the town concerning control of village water. Throughout February, the trustees said, they worked to cut as many costs from as many areas as possible to find a way to reduce the water bills for each resident.
"When we were running, that's one of the things we heard all the time," Conde said. "When we were looking at consolidating with the town, we found places where we could cut. Not big cuts, but we were able to reduce."
Trustees are proposing a $3.49 per 100 cubic feet for water – six cents less than the current price – and $4.59 per 100 cubic feet for sewer, also a six cent reduction.
The changes also affect a $5 surcharge, created to support water and sewer improvements, which will be removed also starting July 1.
Brochey said the village can afford to make the changes today, but could pass along additional savings as the infrastructure is fixed throughout the village in the coming years.
"We came up with a plan so the rates will work," he said. "We also developed a five year plan. If we can get some of the lines fixed up, there's going to be great savings to the residents. When less water is lost, there's less money paid."Big Red Number $7.12 Tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value to help fund $2.5 million in spending for the Village of Lewiston's 2013-14 budget