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Lockport trims school budget, awaits state aid figures

LOCKPORT – The Lockport City School District has nearly finalized a proposed spending total for 2016-17, but awaits state aid figures before deciding how much property taxes will be.

Deborah A. Coder, assistant superintendent for finance and management services, said last week the tentative budget stands at $93,506,847, which would be a year-to-year spending increase of 2.9 percent.

That’s a reduction of $803,788 from the “status quo” budget Coder showed the board in January. However, that budget assumed a tax levy increase of 5.63 percent, or nearly $2.1 million. Lockport’s tax cap this year is 0.89 percent, and Coder said the Board of Education anticipates a levy increase of exactly that amount.

The original budget version broke the tax cap by $1.74 million.

Coder said the reductions in the past two months included $583,000 in anticipated savings from retirements of staff members, and a savings of more than $460,000 in the cost of services from the Orleans-Niagara Board of Cooperative Educational Services. On the other hand, busing costs are expected to rise by $230,000.

Thus, the spending reduction only accounts for less than half of the trimming needed to get under the tax cap. Coder said the budget gap now stands at almost $1 million.

The district is hoping that increased state aid, and perhaps some reductions in staffing levels, will do the rest.

“At this time we are not anticipating any layoffs,” Coder told The Buffalo News by email. “There may be retirements we choose not to fill due to enrollment in certain areas.”

However, the state aid picture in Albany is murky, with both houses of the State Legislature having passed their own incompatible versions of what the state budget should be.

By law, the legislative leaders and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo are supposed to deliver a final budget by April 1.

Coder said if the “gap elimination adjustment,” a state aid penalty for all upstate districts dating back to the Great Recession of 2008, is restored in full, Lockport would gain $566,526.

The rest of the gap, she said, “should be filled by additional foundation aid or usage of unappropriated fund balance.”

Coder said she intends to report back to the Board of Education at the March 30 meeting, with an update at the April 13 meeting.

She said she doesn’t expect the board to pass the budget until April 20. District voters are to go to the polls May 17.

A budget that exceeds the cap requires approval from 60 percent of voters, while if the plan is at or under the cap, a simple majority will do.

“The expenditure budget is fairly finalized, as there is not much more than can be adjusted without changing programs or staffing,” Coder said. “However, nothing is truly finalized until the board adopts the budget. The budget-to-budget increase of 2.9 percent is one of the lowest in a few years. That is a result of reduced pension costs from the state.”