Niagara Gazette

March 12, 2013

Facing $800k deficit, Lew-Port may try to override tax cap

by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Lewiston-Porter's 2013-14 tax levy threshold sits at 4 percent. After some rough calculations, Superintendent Christopher Roser said remaining within its parameters might not be feasible.

It's not a foregone conclusion the school district could attempt to override state law by seeking a higher percentage increase, but Roser and his staff need to find some way to overcome a projected $785,000 operating deficit heading into next year.

"The community has always supported its schools," Roser said. "And we've worked real hard at maintaining the programs within the district. But we've just hit the wall now. What other districts came up against two years ago, we fought hard to avoid. But we couldn't avoid it any longer."

Roser's projections put the district at raising slightly less than $39.7 million in revenues next year, including the capped increase to the tax levy at 4 percent. This figure represents a decrease from current year income of more than $800,000.

Coupled with a budget officials were hoping to keep near the $40.5 million current year spending plan, there needs to be either more tax revenue or spending needs to be slashed.

It'll be up to the board to determine in the next few weeks just how high they want to climb the tax levy ladder and how many jobs will be lost, the only place in the budget capable of handling cuts of this magnitude, Roser said.

But for planning purposes, Roser appears out of other options.

"I don't know how I'm going to be able to keep the tax levy at 4 percent, even with all the layoffs," he said. "We were hoping the picture would brighten a little bit, but it hasn't."

Simply increasing the tax levy 8 percent would put revenues close to this year's budgeted expenses, which has served as a consistent benchmark in the district for the past three years.

But if the current operating budget were rolled over into next year, including all step increases in salary, the district would be looking at a nearly $43 million spending plan.

This isn't what administrators have planned, but more than $2 million in cuts alone would do some serious damage to the programs in the school and would result in several teachers losing their jobs, Roser argued.

How many? He wouldn't say. It's too early in the process with too much left in the air with the state still to adopt its own budget, which determines state aid numbers.

Historically, the tax levy hasn't seen much of a jump in the last 10 years until the budget passed last May. In spite of the 3.51 percent increase voters approved then, its only jumped at a 1.07 percent rate averaged over the past decade. The general fund budget similarly only averaged a 1.72 percent rise over the same time frame, going up a total of $5.4 million.

Conversely, state aid to the district, the only other major source of income available to the district aside from local tax, has seen a 1.37 percent increase in the decade. But the increase is deceiving as it has actually been decreasing at a massive rate for the last three years and will do so for a fourth starting in June.

Aid has fallen to $12.6 million projected in 13-14, down from its recent high of $15.4 million in 2009-10.

The district's school board will hold its regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the district's board meeting room, 4061 Creek Road, Porter.

Mug of Roser, Christopher Christopher Roser Taxing issues