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The Amherst Central School Board Tuesday placed an $8.1 million bond issue on the May 19 ballot to take advantage of proposed state legislation that would reimburse the district 80 percent of the renovation project.

The project would result in no tax increase in the 1998-99 budget and bring electrical savings for years to come, officials said Tuesday night.

Until recently, the board was fine-tuning a $6.2 million bond proposal to finance a kitchen and cafeteria expansion at Smallwood Drive Elementary School, add 10 classrooms and expand the kitchen at Windermere Boulevard Elementary School and develop a library-media center and add classrooms at the high school.

But Tuesday, Mark Whyle, director of administrative services, explained that district officials have been closely following the progress of a bill in Albany that would increase the reimbursement rate for building projects by about 10 percent provided districts place the bond proposals on the May 19 budget ballot.

Thus, district taxpayers will do three things when they go to the polling place May 19:

Elect School Board members.

Consider the 1998-99 school budget.

Consider the $8.1 million bond issue.

"If the bond is voted on with the budget, we could borrow more within the range, without a tax increase," Whyle said.

The State Senate has passed a version of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Mary Lou Rath, R-Williamsville. Another version of the same bill has passed the Assembly.

The board needed to approve the bond vote at least 45 days in advance of the public vote, which it did Tuesday.

One component of the project is retrofitting lighting in Smallwood, Windermere and the middle schools. The work will be done under a so-called "performance contract," in which contractors would guarantee savings with such technology as motion sensors that automatically turn off lights and hardware that requires less electricity. The lighting project adds $1.9 million to the bond issue, boosting the total to $8.1 million.

"We'd be remiss if we did not put this in. . . . This is why the voters elected us, to exercise wise use of their tax dollars," board member Susan Domkowski said.

However, board members wary of anti-tax sentiment were concerned the bigger bond issue may be a hard sell.

Board Vice President Mary M. Egan asked what would happen if the State Legislature failed to pass the legislation.

Whyle replied the the district -- even with voter authorization to borrow as much as $8.1 million -- could borrow less than that.

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