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BOARD BACKS PLANT RELICENSING IN SWAP FOR CHEAP POWER

The Niagara Falls School Board on Thursday accepted a State Power Authority proposal that will bring the school district the equivalent of $1.5 million a year in cash and low-cost electricity for the next 50 years.

The board also approved a resolution to construct a $15 million elementary school at the site of Niagara Street Elementary School, an 85-year-old building that will be torn down during construction of the new facility.

It also scheduled a Dec. 14 vote asking residents to let the board borrow up to $50 million to build the school and finance numerous renovations, repairs and improvements to the city's 12 other schools.

Board members voted, 5-1-1, for the Power Authority proposal, which is worth between a minimum of $75 million and possibly more than $125 million to the district over 50 years once the authority's Niagara Power Plant is relicensed to operate by the federal government, board member and Niagara Coalition Chairman Mark Zito said. Zito abstained because of his position with the seven-member coalition.

It represents a minimum of $1 billion in power and cash benefits to all seven coalition members over that period. The coalition is made up of the towns of Lewiston and Niagara, City of Niagara Falls, Niagara County and the Niagara Falls, Lewiston-Porter and Niagara-Wheatfield school districts.

In return for the economic package, the School Board agreed to support the Power Authority's bid to have its Niagara Power Plant relicensed for 50 years.

Under the deal, the school district will save $500,000 a year in cheap, at-cost power.

"The board will get electricity for seven-tenths of a cent per kilowatt instead of the current rate of 5.7 cents per kilowatt. That will lower and stabilize the school district's power costs for the next 50 years," Zito said.

The district also will get a $1.12 million one-time cash payment once the authority is relicensed and will receive another $1 million a year for the next 50 years. The rest of the $1 billion will be split up in different ways among the other coalition members.

Mayor Vincenzo Anello has signed on to the deal, Zito said, adding that he expects four more coalition members to come on board within the next week. The Town of Lewiston is still waiting for more information before deciding.

As for the new school and other school projects, Deputy Superintendent Cynthia A. Bianco said the board is only asking the public to let it borrow up to $50 million. Aside from the new school, she said the board has yet to decide what repair, renovation and improvement projects it needs to fund most.

She said the projects will have no impact on the tax levy since the state will reimburse the school district for 83 percent of the projects' costs.

e-mail: pwestmoore@buffnews.com

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