Same taxes, fewer police. That's what residents of Ellwood City will get with the 2006 budget.

Before a standing-room-only crowd, borough council introduced a spending plan Dec. 12 that keeps the real estate tax at 4.24 mills and lays off two police officers, a street department worker and two secretaries -- one full time and one part time.

A final vote on the budget is set for on Dec. 27.

A half-mill tax increase was discussed at last week's finance meeting but was not included in the new budget. The additional $120,000 of revenue generated by a half-mill hike would exceed the $117,000 in savings expected by laying off the two policemen. Such an increase would mean about $50 a year more for property owners.

After the meeting, borough manager Dr. Joe Cioffi said a tax increase would not resolve the underlying problems being caused by contractual expenses that continue to spiral upward.

"We'll be in the same boat next year."

Voting against the budget were George Celli, Jim Barry and Todd McDevitt.

In favor were Dom Viccari, Glenn Jones, Lou Cavalier and Ray Venezie.

The $3.62 million budget is about $115,000 less than this year's.

Cioffi had warned earlier that the $1.5 million in revenue from sales of electricity to residents could not continue because of debt payments now encumbering the borough for a new electric distribution substation and a new waste water treatment plant.

However, the borough did not pass on to customers a $238,000 surcharge from its power supplier, AMP-Ohio, which is responding to additional federal charges it has to pay. Other municipalities passed along the charges to customers, but Ellwood City paid the sum out of its capital reserve fund.

After the meeting, Barry charged that council could have been more creative with reductions in spending.

Instead of cutting police officers, Barry suggested setting the police budget to a certain limit and holding the chief and the mayor to that bottom line.

Cioffi said that is a possibility but wondered, "What happens if they run out of money on Dec. 15? Do you suspend police services?"

Barry also suggested closing the window in the municipal building where residents can pay their electric bills. He said that would eliminate the need for one clerk.

Cioffi said that savings would only amount to about $30,000 and the layoff would not occur in that department. Because the clerks are unionized, the one with the least seniority -- whether in the police, electric or accounting department -- would be the one to go.

Barry said a greater savings in the 61 percent of the budget that goes for wages and benefits could be found by contracting out all clerical services in the electric and payroll departments.

Negotiating teams from the police department and borough are working on a new contract to replace the one expiring Dec. 31.

Cioffi said if there were more give and take during those sessions over the next two weeks, all layoffs might be averted. He said the bargaining unit, so far, remains adamant against hiring four part-time police officers to resolve current high overtime costs.

Lt. David Kingston, a member of the negotiating team, said the police have offered wage freezes in the first and fifth years of a five-year contract and concessions in health insurance and wages.

"With the savings we've offered, they could hire a police officer today at the base rate of $44,000 with full benefits."

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