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Niagara County adopts $359M spending plan

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Wed, Dec 12th 2018 03:45 pm

Tax cut means rates are again lowest in decades

Niagara County lawmakers approved a $359 million budget plan Tuesday night, reducing taxes to their lowest level in decades, at $7.01 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. That represents a 1.3 percent cut over last year’s tax rate. In addition, the 2019 budget is $628,000 below the state-mandated tax cap. This is the eighth consecutive year the county’s budget has been under the New York State property tax cap limit.

The budget also included amendments to increase projected sales tax revenue by $200,000 to $69,715,000, and to eliminate $35,000 earmarked for demolition of a county property at 171 Niagara St., City of Lockport. Recent sales tax figures have indicated sales tax receipts will surpass that amount budgeted in 2018, and the county administration is confident this projection remains conservative. With respect to the property at 171 Niagara St., the legislature will ask NORLIC, the county land bank, to accept the property and find a suitable reuse of the property that will return it to the tax rolls.

Niagara County used $3.5 million of fund balance to reduce the property tax levy. However, the unassigned fund balance remains at 6 percent of the 2018 budgeted appropriations. This is consistent with established county fund balance policy and viewed favorably by bond rating agencies. The county’s current Moody’s bond rating has remained at a superior level.

The budget also provides $20,000 to fund operations of the Niagara Military Affairs Council, the grassroots community group that has led several efforts to preserve the Air Force base and its nearly 3,000 jobs at the Niagara Falls Airport.

The budget also invests in highway infrastructure. The Department of Public Works has added heavy equipment operators and truck drivers to complete more highway rehabilitation projects in-house, reducing road construction costs by more than 50 percent.

Legislature Chairman Wm. Keith McNall, R-Lockport, pointed to the 9 cents per $1,000 reduction in the countywide full value property tax rate and the tax levy, which is well under the property tax cap, as proof county lawmakers are continuing to work to reduce the burden on county families: “Our families deserve a fiscally responsible county government, and this is a fiscally responsible county budget.”

Legislature Majority Leader Randy Bradt, R-North Tonawanda, said, “This budget represents a year-long process aimed at transparency and fiscal-responsibility, which contains costs wherever possible, while maintaining essential county services, despite the continuously increasing burden of unfunded state mandates.”

County Manager Rick Updegrove praised the efforts of the county department heads in producing tentative budgets that met the targets of the legislature. He said, “Our department heads met their targets by making the difficult decisions that controlled spending while maintaining essential services.”

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