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TAX HIKE LESS THAN EXPECTED IN BUDGET PLAN

Featuring a lower-than-expected tax increase, a proposed 2005-06 budget of $28.1 million was presented by the City of Tonawanda School Board to residents during a public hearing Tuesday night.

The board is set to adopt the budget proposal Friday.

Residents were informed that the expected tax levy increase of 3.57 percent decreased to 3.02 percent because of a budgeting error. The district duplicated a request for a new position in the budget for an occupational therapist, at $47,000 in salary and expenses.

"In the four years I've been here, this is the best budget we've ever presented in terms of fairness to students and taxpayers," School Superintendent George W. Batterson said. "The reason is because there's no program cuts, and we didn't add any programs, either."

Questions to district officials and board members from the audience included the issue of salary increases for two administrators: Batterson, whose pay would rise by nearly $5,000, to $135,272; and Peter Michaelsen, assistant superintendent of finance, who would earn $112,978.

Twenty percent of Michaelsen's salary is charged to the transportation budget because he also heads that department.

Batterson and Michaelsen defended the salary increases, both of which were negotiated through multiyear contracts with the board. The teachers union receives yearly increases of 4.2 percent under its current contract, which expires next year, Batterson noted.

In other areas of the budget, Michaelsen pointed out that while the district's health insurance premiums have increased again, the district will save about $200,000 because employees will be covered under one carrier.

The district will also receive about $180,000 in additional state funding. The board will vote on the budget at 6 p.m. Friday in the administration building, 202 Broad St. Another public hearing will be held May 10. Residents will vote on the budget May 17.

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