Tonawanda News

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February 7, 2013

Lesson learned in Niagara-Wheatfield as budget talks heat up

Tonawanda News — Niagara-Wheatfield’s budget proposal will not exceed the state’s tax threshold for 2013-14.

Despite early projections showing a second consecutive multimillion-dollar budget deficit, the district’s school board took action Wednesday to not propose more than a 5.58 percent increase to its tax levy, the maximum allowed under the state’s cap.

“I think what we learned from last year is that it’s probably not wise to try to exceed the cap,” Board President Steve Sabo said before making the motion to not seek more. “We would probably not be able to pass a budget this year.”

The decision comes on the heels of May’s failed attempt to pass a 9.9 percent levy increase through the voting booth, which was later replaced by a 4.85 percent reworked increase in June. The second attempt was accepted by voters.

Wednesday’s action was necessary to meet the March 1 deadline the state requires concerning notification of intent. Each year, districts must notify Albany as to whether they will consider exceeding or not.

Based on a formula, the tax levy threshold – or property tax cap – is not a hard 2 percent for school districts. The figure allows districts to factor in mandated increases like pension contributions, as well as increases in property valuations. Increases in certain types of state aid also reduce the cap figure.

According to district Business Manager Kerin Dumphrey, if the board pursues a 5.58 percent increase, cuts of more than $1.4 million would still be needed. But the problem, he said, stems from the money the district is receiving, not what it’s spending.

“We have a revenue problem, not a spending problem,” he said. “The way New York state distributes its aid is not equitable ... and we’re not able to make up the funding cuts at the local level. But we’ll continue to live within our means.”

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