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Huntley shutdown leads to $4.4 million budget gap in Ken-Ton schools

Expected loss of tax revenue from the retirement of the Huntley Station power plant is already being felt in the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School District, which is looking at a 2016-17 budget deficit of nearly $4.4 million.

The district expects to lose about $3 million from a PILOT – payment in lieu of taxes – agreement with NRG Energy, which owns the coal burning power generation station on River Road.

Still, the current budget gap is smaller than the $5 million gap the district faced at this point in the budget-making process last year, and the $7 million gap in 2014.

“That was without Huntley PILOT money coming off,” said John J. Brucato, school business administrator. “So I would say comparatively we’re in much better shape. Of course, we have a lot more work to do.”

Changes to what is now a draft budget of about $159.7 million were reviewed during a work session Tuesday night in Hoover Middle School. The School Board plans to adopt a budget April 12.

The district has a property tax cap increase set at 4.64 percent but under the current scenario is anticipating a tax increase of 3.5 percent. Homeowners would pay an additional $72 in taxes on a property with a market value of $100,000.

Anticipated revenue is currently set at $155.3 million, with 52.8 percent of that coming from local taxpayers and 35.3 percent from state and federal sources.

The district is anticipating a 2.63 percent increase in financial aid from the state. However, a state budgeting tool known as the Gap Elimination Adjustment continues to siphon money away from districts, Brucato said. If funding from the GEA were fully restored, Ken-Ton’s budget deficit would stand at $3.1 million.

The district is anticipating the retirement of 23 teachers and laying off 18 teachers in a consolidation process in which three schools would close at the end of this school year.

A proposition to buy some buses is expected to be on the May 17 ballot. It would allow the purchase of 13 buses for a total of $1.5 million. State aid would cover 70 percent of that.

The next budget work session will be held March 29 in the Franklin Middle School cafeteria.

Also Tuesday, the board voted 3-2 against putting a referendum before voters on May 17 that would extend board members’ terms to five years and agreed not to adopt the alternate veterans tax exemption.