Niagara Gazette

Local News

March 19, 2014

Niagara-Wheatfield looks five years in the future

Niagara Gazette — They’re words no one in Niagara-Weatfield is hearing for the first time. There’s no money, long-term, to save the school district from itself.

Hearing the words from a consultant Monday was still uncomfortable for veteran school board members, even if they’ve sat through two of the most difficult years anyone in New York state has dealt with at an education level, with promises of a third set to ramp up over the next few weeks.

Rick Timbs, executive director of the Statewide School Finance Consortium, used graphs and spreadsheets to drive home the fact the financially embattled school district is without money and struggling every day. It’s so bad he even predicted a quick and painful death in two years if voters don’t approve a tax levy increase this May.

“You’re between a rock and a hard place,” he said, using a model he created predicting the state of district revenues and expenses over the next five years. “I can’t get the budget, as extrapolated, into 2017. I might be able to get it into 2016. But unless you get another form of revenue, you won’t make it (through) 2016.”

Most surprising in his presentation, though, was his findings even if the district were to successfully ask taxpayers for a 4.8 percent increase to its tax levy next year. He said even then, long-term success might not be possible without taking money from a special Employee Benefit Accrues Liability Reserve — EBALR — ontrolled by the state Comptroller’s Office.

There’s only one problem with doing so: It’s illegal. Making a withdrawal from the reserve without granted exception, typically due to a district saving too much money, Timbs said, is a misdemeanor. Right now, he said Niagara-Wheatfield doesn’t appear to qualify for an exception.

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