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Budget Talks: Niagara Falls School District

The Niagara Falls School District is defined as a very needy school with three-quarters of its students receiving free or reduced lunches. The state has allocated $733,000 in new foundation aid to the district under the Community Schools program that provides additional funds to struggling schools. The program provides before- and after-school mentoring, summer activities and health services.

While Gap Elimination Aid will be restored to some districts next year, the Niagara Falls district had most of its aid restored this past year, said Joseph A. Giarrizzo, administrator for school business services. But Giarrizzo said a large part of the district’s state aid is foundation aid and the state funding is still $18 million to $19 million below what the district is owed based on the state formula. He said the state is slowly phasing in foundation dollars. He said the district qualifies for $90 million in foundation aid, but only received about $76 million.

He said voters appear to support the district’s efforts to “get done what needs to be done,” with 68 percent of voters approving the 2015-16 budget despite the fact it exceeded the tax cap. In 2016-17, the voters will be rewarded with no tax increase. The board was allowed to go up 1.5 percent under the tax cap, but chose to keep the levy flat.

The district also received an unexpected increase of $1.2 million in state aid, which Giarrizzo said will be rolled over and allowed to accumulate to keep the district’s resources robust.

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Preliminary budget

Proposed total budget: $137,055,127 million, up 2.5 percent

Proposed tax levy: $25,828,989, no increase.

Tax levy increase allowed under tax cap: 1.5 percent

Planning to go over tax cap? No

What could be cut: No plans for cuts, but before funding was restored last year they had to do more with less.

What could be added: Community School Aid of $733,000 provided by the state will allow them to add after-school mentoring, summer activities and health services for needy students.

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What is a tax levy?

The tax levy is the total amount in taxes collected from property owners.

What is the tax cap?

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo instituted the tax cap three years ago to help control local taxes. It’s billed as a 2 percent tax cap but is actually based on the rate of inflation. Each district’s cap is different because of a complicated formula and can be higher or lower than 2 percent. Districts need 60 percent of votes – called a super majority – to approve a budget that goes over the tax cap. They only need one vote over 50 percent for a budget below the tax cap to pass.

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Voters go to the polls Tuesday, May 17 to approve or vote down the proposed budget and vote on candidates for school board and any propositions.

– Nancy A. Fischer, News Niagara reporter