Niagara Gazette

May 20, 2013

Lew-Port looks to override tax cap

By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Tuesday’s budget vote in Lewiston-Porter will affect more than $66 million in spending over the course of the next few years.

Getting approval to actually touch that money is likely to be the toughest challenge the district has ever faced, considering the status of the school’s finances.

With millions of state dollars disappearing every year since 2009, Lew-Port’s school board decided to attempt an override of the state’s property tax cap law to help balance a 2013-14 budget. In proposing a 5.5 percent levy increase, they’ve determined funding offerings like its afterschool assistance program for struggling high school students and modified sports for middle schoolers unready to face junior varsity-level competition more important than worrying about the financial struggles of an aging electorate.

Now they need more than 60 percent support from the public to approve the plan, a statistical improbability considering both the district’s history at the polls and the failure rate of last year’s override attempts across New York.

Historically, the district has not attempted such drastic increases to its levy in the past five years. But in a study of election results since 1980, only one proposal of more than 5 percent increase achieved more than the required 60 percent yes votes. Though no tax cap existed prior to 2012’s election, several proposed budgets in the same 30-plus year time frame were either approved by less than 60 percent or failed at the polls.

Last year’s results also point out a grim prospect for Lew-Port. Nineteen — including neighbor Niagara-Wheatfield — districts failed to pass a budget on the first vote last year because of attempts to override the state law. Many of them succeeded in passing a reduced tax levy plan in a second vote last June, but districts relying on extra support from voters found it missing when it mattered.

Niagara-Wheatfield’s original plan even failed to receive 50 percent support when it needed 60 percent.

With much of the attention on the district’s spending plan for next year, another chunk of money is also up to voters in a second proposition. A proposed $26 million capital improvement project needs 50 percent approval from voters, as well.

The project, which would be funded at no additional cost to taxpayers, according to Superintendent Christopher Roser, would provide dramatic improvements to the district’s high school - including the construction of a new swimming pool on the school’s first floor - and update entryways to all four education buildings.

Based on needs determined in the district’s latest building conditions survey, Roser said the $26 million needed to complete the project is money from a completely separate pot of state funds which could never be used to balance the district’s budget crisis requiring the supermajority support.

If approved, the project is expected to begin construction in the summer of 2014.

In addition to the two financial decisions facing voters, three candidates for the district’s school board will run unopposed for three openings. Board President Jodee Riordan has decided to seek a new three-year term, while outgoing members Jim Sperduti and Jerome Andres will be replaced by Betty VanDenBosch Warrick and Anna Wright, both parents of children in the district.

Voting is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday in the district’s Community Resource Center, 4061 Creek Road, Porter.

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