Niagara Gazette

Local News

March 20, 2014

Niagara-Wheatfield board majority favors taking 4.8 percent tax levy hike to voters

Niagara Gazette — In a poll of Niagara-Wheatfield School Board members Wednesday, a majority favored proposing a 4.8 percent tax levy increase to residents come this May’s budget vote.

District Superintendent Lynn Fusco was directed to prepare a budget for the board to approve featuring such an increase in revenues. It won’t be close to covering the expected deficit officials are facing for next year’s school district, as Fusco will be cutting about $2.3 million from the current program to make it possible.

“I’m tired of sitting up here and voting to take things away from the students,” board Vice President Rich Halleen said before casting his lot behind the proposed increase.

Other suggestions made included 3.9 percent and 3 percent levy increases, though the board unanimously approved the 4.8 percent hike as the targeted goal.

The 4.8 percent figure, if approved, would result in approximately $31.4 million coming to the district through local measures, an increase of about $1.4 million. It’s also the figure the board recognized as the district’s threshold figure, meaning it’s the highest percentage increase available to Niagara-Wheatfield’s business office under the state’s property tax cap law.

Board members previously voted to not override the law this year, the second consecutive year they’ve avoided the process. An override would require 60 percent of voters approving the spending proposal, which the district failed to achieve in May 2012 when it asked residents to accept a 9.9 percent increase following a tumultuous winter of leadership turnover and a disastrous internal audit report.

Wednesday’s action solidifies the board’s intent to present a $63.8 million – an increase of $1.5 million from the current year – spending plan to taxpayers May 20, when the public decides. But the final budget amount could change, and the amount of cuts could drop, if alternative funding becomes available within the next few weeks as lawmakers in Albany create aid availability.

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