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SCHOOL CHIEF TO EXPLAIN PROJECT TO TOWN

Clarence School Superintendent Thomas G. Coseo will meet with town officials Wednesday, hoping to explain the district's record $35.8 million building project at a time when it is already being criticized for spending instead of cutting.

"It's an FYI," Coseo said of the meeting, which will be held during a 9 a.m. board work session in Town Hall. "It's all my doing, in the interest of harmony . . . being a good neighbor."

Coseo said he asked to meet with town officials to explain the building project, which includes extensive additions to the middle school and high school due to growing enrollment.

The project would add 46 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to the current school tax rate of $16.69 per $1,000.

For a home assessed at about $150,000 -- a typical price in Clarence -- the project would increase taxes by an average of $69 annually for the next 20 years.

But Coseo said he has "no plans" to discuss the issue of how the district handled an infusion of tax dollars, courtesy of the town's recent revaluation.

Critics -- including Clarence Assessor David D. Folger -- say Clarence schools took advantage of $170 million in increased assessments to boost spending.

Instead of cutting the tax rate to keep tax bills from rising, the School Board decided to maintain its current tax rate. By doing so, it automatically collected nearly $3 million in new tax revenue.

Folger says the board should have cut the tax rate by at least $2.

Neighboring Amherst is also under fire for boasting of a flat tax rate, while actually increasing taxes through reassessments. Critics call it a "stealth tax" because homeowners are sometimes misled into thinking their taxes won't rise because the tax rate isn't increasing.

But tax bills will increase if the town determines the value of their homes has risen -- unless the tax rate is cut enough by municipalities and school districts to offset the rise in value.

Coseo defended the 5.7 percent spending increase and the tax levy in the $56.24 million budget, which is set to go to voters May 17.

He said the increase in spending and taxes was driven by bills the district has no choice but to pay.

Salaries will increase $1.1 million, or 4 percent. Between increasing bills for retirement and other benefits, spending would rise $1.2 million, or 10 percent, he said.

Utilities are up almost 6 percent, and payments to the Board of Cooperative Educational Services will rise more than 13 percent.

"We're a growing district, and as we grow, more students attend occupational (classes) through BOCES," he said. "We also use more services, like payroll, vendors."

Also on the May 17 ballot is a measure asking for $990,000 to purchase 12 new buses, which will replace part of an aging fleet. Coseo said the tax impact was not immediately available.

e-mail: ncervantes@buffnews.com

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