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With AES factor unknown, new budget is status quo

Because it does not know how much property tax revenue it will receive from the AES Corp. power plant operation, the Barker School Board has adopted a proposed $18.9 million budget for the 2007-08 school year, the same amount as in the current budget.

It will be presented to the voters May 15.

District Business Administrator Deborah Coder said Thursday that the board flat-lined the budget because it does not know what its property tax revenue will be.

The matter is tied up in State Supreme Court where the school district, the Town of Somerset and Niagara County are challenging an agreement for payment in lieu of taxes that the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency made with the operator of the coal-fired power plant. It would save the company at least $43 million in property taxes over the next 12 years. If the courts rule in favor of the agreement, the School Board would stand to lose $1.35 million in property tax revenue next year, a significant amount of its budget.

Being cautious, the board cut 11.5 positions from the budget to keep it at this year's level. That will result in the layoff of 10 people, including five teaching assistants, two counselors and three part-time teacher's aides. The board also has plans to eliminate an additional 13 jobs if the court rules against the district in the AES case.

The lion's share of the proposed budget will be financed with $4.8 million in state aid and $13.6 million in property taxes, which is the same amount the district received this year.

"We left it the same because we don't know what AES will pay next year. But as far as we know, AES is still on the tax rolls," Coder said.

Because of that, Coder also said property tax rates will remain the same as this year at an estimated $16.04 per $1,000 assessed value in the Town of Somerset; $13.79 per $1,000 in the towns of Hartland and Newfane; and $14.52 per $1,000 in the Orleans County communities of Yates and Ridgeway.

The board also will ask voters to approve a proposition to set up a capital reserve fund, which can hold up to $3 million over the next 20 years. It will be used to fund capital improvements for district facilities. The board, however, will have to get voters' permission by holding a referendum whenever it wants to use the capital reserve fund for a project.

e-mail: pwestmoore@buffnews.com

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