Niagara Gazette

Local News

February 3, 2014

Voters set to decide fate of Niagara-Wheatfield bus plan

(Continued)

Niagara Gazette — It brought the board to a consensus in favor of purchasing outright.

Tuesday’s decision, Sabo said, will also have no impact on the property tax residents and businesses pay each year. The money for the purchase is being taken from the district’s cash reserves gained from underspending the 2012-13 budget by more than $1 million.

There won’t be any borrowing or increase in taxes due to the vote’s outcome, he said.

“People have to understand they’re just authorizing us to spend the money,” Sabo said. “This isn’t a vote about taxes, as much as they think it is. We have that money in reserve.”

While there’s concern over the future of the bus fleet, some residents have wondered out loud at recent school board meetings and on the Internet about the option to privatize the district’s transportation department to reduce costs to taxpayers.

The district funded a study in October 2012 by Transportation Advisory Services to explore the possibility. In June 2013, TAS President Mark Walsh addressed the board with his findings, recommending the district not relinquish control of its school bus fleet to an outside company.

At the time, Walsh cited a requirement the district negotiate a buyout of the school-related personnel union contract — including paying lump sums for any sick days, holidays, vacation and retirement benefits, as well as any lawyer fees — as a primary reason to avoid contracting out a service the district provides. He also said it could take anywhere from a year to 18 months before any sort of contract could even be bid on by private companies.

“As an outsider, it doesn’t matter to me,” Walsh said June 5. “But if you’re competitive, stay that way. It’s important to realize, the way the state operates right now, your aid is set at 77.1 percent. All of the benefit costs of a buyout are non-aidable expenses. And you would have to terminate all employees. They’d be eligible for unemployment, which you’d have to pay.”

Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.

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