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$124 MILLION BUDGET IS APPROVED WITH 2.49% RISE IN TAX LEVY

The Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School Board on Wednesday unanimously adopted a $124 million budget for the 2005-06 school year that would increase the tax levy by 2.49 percent.

The budget also restores a buildings and grounds position and 1.5 clerical positions that were trimmed from the proposed budget last week.

Unsure of how much state aid the district would be receiving, the board last week agreed to postpone voting on a spending plan. With more information available Tuesday, district administrators were able to increase aid projections for the district by nearly $1.1 million.

Though promised aid in the State Legislature's package was higher than what Gov. George E. Pataki proposed, School Superintendent Steven A. Achramovitch said, it is common practice to anticipate that the district will receive less.

"The (Legislature's) proposal is $39 million. We never receive what the proposed amount is; no district does, because the numbers aren't exact. So what we try to do is make adjustments along the way," Achramovitch explained after Wednesday's special budget meeting.

When aid is higher than projected, he said, the additional amount is added to the district's reserve fund.

The board finally agreed Wednesday to lower the projected increase in the property tax rate, which earlier in the evening had been set at just under 3 percent.

Board members agonized over whether it made sense to compromise on the projected fund balance -- which is traditionally set at 2 percent of the total budget -- in order to reach a tax rate increase of 2.5 percent or less.

Board member John E. Donnelly supported reducing the tax levy by increasing projected revenues.

"We have to lessen the tax burden at this point," Donnelly said. "We have state aid that's being placed in the fund balance. Let's utilize it."

But board member Louis M. Reuter reminded the board that the district's auditors cautioned against carrying too little in reserve funds. To pursue such a course in order to lower the tax rate a few tenths of a percentage point might be penny-wise and pound-foolish, he said.

"Next year, we're going to go through this same process again. And if our appropriated fund balance winds up being significantly less than it is now, we'll have to make additional cuts that will be extremely painful in order to keep that tax rate down," Reuter said.

To reduce the projected tax increase in next year's budget, board members agreed to compromise on how much to increase projections on aid for transportation and reimbursements for special services the district receives from Erie 1 Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

Despite the tortuous process, board members pronounced themselves pleased after the budget vote.

"I think we worked very hard at this," Reuter said. "I think we thought in terms of what's good for the district. We're concerned about academic achievement, . . . and, at the same time, we're very cognizant of the concerns of the taxpayer."

e-mail: hmcneil@buffnews.com

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