Niagara Gazette

Local News

March 9, 2014

Tax increase, staffing/program cuts again on table for Niagara-Wheatfield

Niagara Gazette — It’s become a familiar tale in Niagara-Wheatfield, where next year’s estimated expenses grossly overbear the anticipated revenues despite the possibility of a substantial increase to the district’s property tax levy.

Wednesday marked the third year — and the third superintendent — of delivering the story to the seven-member school board, elected to oversee the financial health of the district.

This time, though, it doesn’t appear the district can get by with massive cuts to staffing like two years ago or a slight reduction in strategic places like this past June’s proposal. Simply put, with those things already done, there’s not enough left to help the district overcome what’s ultimately staring it in the face.

“In years past, you’ve cut deeply,” Superintendent Lynn Fusco said. “This really cuts at the core of what we do as educators. Right now, we’re looking at reorganizing the district. We can’t just keep cutting.”

The district currently faces an almost insurmountable deficit between expected income and projected spending, though the assertion only takes into account preliminary state budget figures. As it stands, the district needs to make enough changes to counter a $3.7 million increase in spending from the current year’s adopted plan of $62.4 million.

This year’s increase is due to, as previous jumps have been, the increased cost of staffing. Contractual pay hikes and an unforeseen mandatory increase in funding the teacher retirement pension contributed $2.5 million by itself. The projected spending even includes a $24,000 reduction in central office spending.

Unless there’s major changes coming from Albany, which officials are begging for and lobbying through several channels, Niagara-Wheatfield has two ways of overcoming its obstacle. It can either raise taxes on property holders or cut spending to bring the figure down to where it meets revenue projections. Likely, the district will end up doing some of both.

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