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Lew-Port ponders use of power funds

The Lewiston-Porter School Board is wrestling with how to use the district's share of Niagara Power Project relicensing proceeds.

Interim School Superintendent Don J. Rappold said it is up to trustees to decide how to use the money -- a $1.12 million lump sum and $725,000 annually over the next 49 years.

But he said he believes part of it will go toward a five-year capital improvement plan for schools at no cost to property owners. He also said the district will be given 1.5 megawatts of cheap electrical power every year for the next 50 years as part of the settlement. He said that will allow the district to cut its power costs roughly in half each year "at an annual savings of about $325,000."

"The power allocation also could enable us to rely less and less on natural gas and more and more on electricity to heat our schools. That's always a possibility," Rappold said.

The district will get the $1.12 million soon, with the yearly payments starting on Aug. 31, 2007.

The Niagara Power Coalition is made up of Lewiston-Porter, Niagara-Wheatfield and Niagara Falls school districts, Niagara County, the City of Niagara Falls and the towns of Lewiston and Niagara. They will share $1 billion in cash and cheap power over the next 50 years as part of the relicensing agreement for the Niagara Power Project.

School Board President David S. Schaubert said, "It's a relief that the agreement is finally done because it presents the board with a real opportunity to do things for the district without creating financial hardship to district residents."

"It will be up to the board to decide exactly how and what the money will be used for. My personal goal for this is to use part of it to fund the five-year capital projects plan [which could include converting from gas heat to electric heat]," he said. "Because, if we do it right by combining the initial money with state aid reimbursement, we should be able to finance building improvements without causing any increase in taxes."

Some of the initial payment will be used to launch a municipal utility to administer the low-cost power being allocated to coalition members, Schaubert said.

"There are certain start-up costs, and each of the seven coalition members is going to have to put money into that in the beginning," Schaubert said.

"In our case, the initial $1.12 million payment is a lot more than we need to pay for that. So we can use most of the money for other things in the district like the initial funding of our capital projects plan until the annual payments start up after Aug. 31, 2007," he said.

But first, the board and other coalition members must decide whether they should unite as a utility company under the umbrella of Niagara County. The will discuss this issue when it meets on Jan. 17.

e-mail: pwestmoore@buffnews.com

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