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SCHOOL PLAN UNVEILED IN TONAWANDA DRAFT BUDGET CARRIES 18 PERCENT TAX HIKE

The City of Tonawanda School Board and the public Tuesday night got a look at a draft budget that projects an 18 percent tax increase, even though increases in budget expenditures were set at 5 percent.

Assistant Superintendent C. Douglas Whelan explained that the city's tax base is not growing, and that has contributed to a double-digit increase in the tax rate despite the fact that there is only a single-digit increase in spending.

Whelan also predicted there would be major cuts before the budget is final.

"This is a first draft, and we're at the first level," he said. "I think we know where the tolerance level in the community is and this is not acceptable. We have a lot of work to do."

School Board Vice President Dennis Atkinson said board members intend to find savings to reduce the tax rate.

"Let's be realistic -- it's not going to be 18 percent," Atkinson said. "It's going to be cut."

Whelan emphasized that the spending plan is preliminary.

He said state aid projections are based on Gov. Cuomo's budget proposal, and assessment figures are not final.

Interim School Superintendent James C. Holler noted administrators have not yet looked at equipment reductions and staffing changes such as retirements that could result in economies.

"We're trying to maintain existing programs," he said.

The draft budget totals $20,148,295, an increase of $980,693 from this year's budget.

At that level, Whelan said, the current tax rate of $15.12 per $1,000 of assessed valuation would rise by $2.77, to $17.89.

However, because the property-tax base is not growing, and the district lost about $100,000 in state aid, residents have to make up most of the projected $1.2 million increase in the total tax levy.

Before unveiling the draft budget, the board accepted a report from its Budget Advisory Team. The team, made up of parents, board members, union representatives and other district residents met for five months and examined how the district is managed.

Whelan noted some suggestions, such as combining gas purchases and services such as trash collection with the city -- had already been implemented.

He said other suggestions, such as reducing administration to 1 percent of the budget, could be considered.

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