Niagara Gazette

Local News

March 21, 2013

Niagara-Wheatfield looking at 6 percent tax hike, still facing $1.4M shortfall

Niagara Gazette — In the interest of providing as many programming options it can to students next year, the Niagara-Wheatfield school board will pursue a budget with a 5.91 percent tax levy increase.

It's going to take the almost 6 percent increase to give the district a fighting chance this upcoming year, School Board President Steve Sabo said, given the alternative is making cuts to programs beyond the skeleton currently operating at the district.

"Without this tax increase, we're looking at a $3.1 million gap for next year at a zero increase," Sabo said. "Taking into account the maximum levy increase we can, it's $1.4 million."

Wednesday's action provides interim business manager Richard Hitzges, filling in for the retired Kerin Dumphrey through the end of the school year, and Interim Superintendent James Knowles with a place to begin investigating what cuts will be needed to close the estimated $1.4 million deficit.

If the district were to carry over all of its staffing from this year to next year, the spending plan would come in at $63.7 million. With a 5.91 percent levy increase, the maximum alloted under New York's tax levy cap, only $62.2 million in revenues will be received.

So even after the massive cuts the last two years, seeing 91 employees hit the unemployment line, and consistent enrollment figures, more pain will be felt by the district's employees, not just the taxpayers.

Where those cuts come from is still to be determined, but a worst-case scenario would involve eliminating some massively popular, but not mandated, programs the district was able to save last year despite a gruesome budget season.

"We're talking kindergarten, junior varsity and varsity sports," Sabo said. "That's what we're left with right now. There's nothing else to cut from."

The district will likely receive some help due to the retirements – including Dumphrey's, which Sabo said saves the district $10,000 this year – but not enough to overcome the gap. Additional state aid may also become available once a state budget is finalized in the coming days, while deferring more costs to the debt service fund may also be possible, according to Hitzges.

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