Tonawanda News

April 16, 2014

TCSD considers tax freeze deal

By Jessica Bagley jessica.bagley@tonawanda-news.com
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Tonawanda City school board members said Tuesday they prefer implementing a 2.55 percent tax levy increase if the district chooses to participate in a program that will reimburse residents for most of the increase on their tax bills.

The board was considering voting for a budget plan on Tuesday night, but further discussions delayed that step until next week. The board is now considering opting into a state budgetary option that was introduced this year.

Under the three-year program, if the district stays within its cap, qualified taxpayers will receive a credit for the difference between the current school tax bill and the following year’s bill.

“The refund is the change in the bill,” Interim Financial Manager Richard Hitzges said. “For those that qualify, it freezes the tax bill based on the 2013-2014 year.”

To qualify, residents’ primary property must be located in the city and they must be eligible for STAR.  The refund will not cover changes in a tax bill due to improvements to the home and revaluations. As a result, an increase on a residents’ tax bill due to the recent assessment update will not be covered under the rebate. 

Residents will still pay their tax bills, but will then receive a refund from the state afterward. Under a 2.55 percent tax levy increase, the average home bill would increase by $29.52 per year.

In the second and third years of the state program, the district will be required to develop a state-approved government efficiency plan that shows savings due to shared services, cooperative agreements or mergers.

The district must not exceed its tax levy limit each year to comply with the program. 

“We believe we can meet the qualifications to help the community,” Director of Special Education Amy Edgerton said.

If the district implements a 2.55 percent increase, it will still be below its levy limit of 4.4 percent and will have an additional $286,639 at its disposal. On Tuesday, the board discussed how it would use those funds, and many board members said they prefer reinstating a special education teacher at Fletcher Elementary.

That position was set to be eliminated after a retirement this year, but Edgerton and other district officials expressed concern about a reduction in instruction.

The board also discussed using the extra funds for student-centered equipment for the science, technology, engineering arts and math subjects. Officials have proposed providing sixth-graders with netbooks, as well as purchasing new projectors, a 3D printer, and providing for musical instrument repairs, among other pieces of equipment.

The current draft budget also includes investing in the teacher retirement system, which is currently underfunded by $225,498.

“What you want to be able to do is not have to face it in the coming years,” Hitzges said. “Position yourself now ... we have an opportunity with more state aid and the real property tax credit.”

The board will continue to review its options and meet next week to vote on a budget plan.

Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000 ext. 4150, or follow her on Twitter @JessicaLBagley.