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DISTRICT TAXES FALL THIS YEAR; INCREASE LOOMS

Taxes will fall in the Williamsville School District this year, but residents can expect to take a hit in the pocketbook next year.

That's because money used to lower taxes this year either won't be available next year or may be spent to restore several student programs that recently were cut.

One pot of money the district won't have next year is $1 million from two lawsuit settlements. And state aid used to lower taxes this year may be spent to restore the cut programs next year.

Because the state budget was passed in August, it was too late to use the state funding to restore cut programs. The district had no choice but to use the $810,000 to reduce taxes -- resulting in the first tax cut in Williamsville in 10 years.

The rates this year are:

Amherst, $25.03 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, a 0.2 percent decrease.

Cheektowaga, $27.74, a 0.6 percent decrease.

Clarence, $18.02, a 0.16 percent decrease.

But next year, it's almost certain that taxes will go up; it's just a question of how much.

Making up the $1 million from the lawsuit settlements would mean a 1.5 percent increase in the tax levy, the amount of money raised through property taxes.

If the district spends an extra $810,000 to restore cut programs, that would bring the tax increase to 2.7 percent.

And if personnel costs increase as much as they did this year -- $2.2 million -- residents could see their tax levy increase by a total of 5.7 percent.

However, district officials are hopeful that increased revenue -- such as state aid or rising property values -- will offset those costs.

"We'll have to watch those things over the year," said Richard Hitzges, assistant superintendent for business. "I'm not predicting anything at this point, because it's so changeable."

Taxes also would not rise as much if the board did not restore any cut programs.

"I certainly think there will be much pressure from within the board and community to consider looking at the cuts that were made and whether we can restore any of them," School Board President Sharon Harris-Ewing said. "It's too early to predict the effect of that on the tax rate."

After its $106.8 million budget was defeated in May, the school district adopted a $105 million contingency budget that has a state-mandated spending cap.

To get under that cap, the district cut many programs, such as 10-grade health, Special Friends to help first-graders adjust and distance learning at the high schools. The district also reduced foreign language at the middle schools.

At the same time, the board gave Superintendent Ann B. Fuqua a raise to bring her salary to $125,871.

It gave another administrator a $13,000 raise to become principal of Mill Middle School. The former principal, William Grobe, took a less-demanding job in the central office so he could run for president of the National Association of Secondary School Principal. He got to keep his $100,503 salary.

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