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Ken-Ton School Board adopts budget with zero tax increase

The Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School Board unanimously adopted a final budget on Tuesday that holds the line on taxes and closes an estimated $1.9 million budget gap in the $160.7 million budget.

The School Board was able to close the gap without raising taxes, while simultaneously adding programming to the schools, Assistant Superintendent of Finance John J. Brucato said.

"We are very pleased with that," Brucato said. "Right now, it's up to the New York State Assembly and Senate to agree on a budget, because that's a big piece of our revenue."

Brucato called the state budget "a wild card," but both he and Interim Superintendent Stephen Bovino said Tuesday that they have spoken to state officials and expect a state budget to be in place by Wednesday.

"We feel very confident about it," said Bovino.

School Board President Jill O'Malley thanked Brucato for his work on the budget and Bovino for his advocacy on behalf of the district.

Brucato said that even without final state aid numbers in place, the district remains confident in the adopted budget, which used conservative revenue estimates for state aid.

The Ken-Ton district for several years has faced budget gaps that prompted consolidating schools, laying off staff and higher taxes.

The 2017-18 budget paints a much more positive fiscal picture – adding staff and programs while keeping a zero percent increase in the tax levy, which means no increase in the school tax rate, said Brucato.

He said this year the district balanced the budget by establishing a long-term lease of the Roosevelt Elementary School, revising health care estimates, lowering utility costs, moving a psychologist position to a grant program and making payroll modifications.

The good news is that the district will be able to add five new science teachers for a new elementary school program, offer summer school to all grades rather than just the high school, add an assistant principal at Kenmore-West, add one and half teachers on special assignment at the elementary building and add a counselor at Kenmore-West.

The district also expects to receive an undetermined aid package from the state to minimize the impact from the closing of the Huntley Power Plant.

In the past year the district received $2.2 million in special assistance, about 80 percent of what the district had been receiving annually from Huntley. The state fund is expected to pay the district 65 percent next year, but state leaders have argued for the funding to remain at or above the 2017 levels.

The Electric Generation Facility Mitigation Fund was set up last year by the state to support communities that lost revenues from the closure of the Huntley and Dunkirk power plants.

This funding is not part of the school's budget planning, Brucato said, noting that these funds are not guaranteed and the district could not rely on the money.
But Bovino said he was assured by state officials that this funding would be extended in 2017-18. Brucato said these monies would fund the district reserve fund.
The district had built up a reserve fund to prepare for the closing of the Huntley Plant, but Brucato said part of the district's goal after consolidating schools has been to rely less on reserves.

The adopted final budget of $160 million is up 2.26 percent from the current budget of $157,110,733. The estimated tax rate of $49.24 per $1,000 of assessed valuation is based on the current equalization rate of 40.5 percent – a true rate at 100 percent valuation of $19.94 per $1,000.

With  zero increase in the tax levy, an average taxpayer with a $100,000 home (the same in both the Village of Kenmore and Town of Tonawanda) will continue to pay an annual school tax of $1,994 per year.

The budget information is posted on the school website. A final public hearing and information session will be held at 6:30 p.m. May 9 in the Philip Sheridan Building, 3200 Elmwood Ave., Kenmore.

The budget vote will be held from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on May 16 in Hoover Elementary School, 199 Thorncliff Road, Kenmore.

In addition to the budget proposal, voters will decide on a resolution to purchase 14 buses at a total cost of $1.3 million, and elect two School Board members.

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