Niagara Gazette

Local News

February 25, 2013

Casino funds, pensions cause massive planning uncertainty for Falls schools

Niagara Gazette — The lack of casino revenues could again cause devastating pain in the Niagara Falls City School District.

For the third year in a row, the district faces going without $750,000 in revenues it needs to help close a projected $5.3 million gap heading into 2013-14.

Getting a settlement between the Seneca Nation of Indians and New York state on the matter would definitely help future planning in the district, according to Administrator for School Business Services Timothy Hyland.

“Should the casino fiasco not be resolved by the end of this school year, we’ll be looking at losing another $750,000 and we’ll be looking at a massive gap,” Hyland said.

Casino funds aren’t the only thing Hyland can’t bank on, though, concerning the future of the district’s finances. Pension contributions are also contributing to the massive difference.

So the problem lies both in revenues, projected to be at most $123.2 million with casino funds included, and expenses, which he said could be as high as $127.7 million.

Hyland selected those two specific items to highlight Thursday because they’re the only aspects of the budget he can’t control which would allow more income or less spending to go on in the district.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget, released in January, came with controversial pension reform which, if adopted, would cut the district’s contribution to the retirement system by more than $1 million next year.

The figure seems like a lot, but it’s currently projecting paying more than $2 million more than this year to the system if the reform is not passed by the legislature.

Cuomo’s reform would cap all contributions to the fund by government entities like school districts, which Hyland said would allow him to plan for the long-term. Opponents of the reform, however, say the cap would break New York state’s constitution, which requires the more-than $5 billion fund to be fully funded.

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